The Medieval Academy of America announced today that its 2011 annual meeting will still be held in Arizona. The academic organization was under pressure to move the conference because of the recent immigration law adopted by the state.
An email was sent out to its membership and posted the Medieval Academy of America’s (MAA) website, which stated the MAA’s Executive Committee took into account a number of issues when making their decision, including the “fiduciary responsibility for the Academy’s endowment, the appropriateness of making collective political statements, the precedents that would be set if the Academy canceled the meeting, the scholarly effects of canceling the annual meeting, the work done by the Arizona programming committee, the difficulty of finding any alternative meeting place, the timing of cancellation, and the possibility of legal challenge to Arizona’s legislation.”
The email also revealed the results of an advisory poll that was sent out to all members asking for their input. The results showed that a greater percentage of respondents wanted to keep the conference in Arizona (46.5%) than to move it (42%) while about 10.7% expressed no opinion. Less than a third of the 3881 members responded to the poll.
Professor Paul E. Szarmach, Executive Director of the MAA, told Medievalists.net that the situation was handled in “exemplary way for an academic organization,” by taking the time to consult its membership and thoroughly discuss the various ramifications of any decisions.
The academy also announced that some changes will be implemented into the conference programme because of the controversial law. The email stated they will be working with local organizers “to ensure that the program of the meeting reflects and relates to similar issues at stake in medieval society, including such topics as race, ethnicity, immigration, tolerance, treatment of minority groups, protest against governmental policies judged unjust, and standards of judicial and legislative morality.”
The controversy over the location of the MAA meeting began last May, with dozens of scholars questioning whether or not it was appropriate to keep the conference in Arizona after the state passed a strict law against illegal immigrants. The law came into effect just days ago, although portions of it have been suppressed by court rulings. The issue has been prominent in the United States in recent months, with the law claiming many supporters and detractors.
Early reaction to the announcement on In the Middle, a prominent medieval blog which led the way in trying to have the meeting moved, has been mostly negative, with some condemning the decision and stating they will cancel their membership with the MAA. Eileen Joy, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University, wrote that she was “distressed that their decision reflects perhaps TOO much attention to all of the competing interests and “issues,” as they put them. It’s a kind of clusterfuck of all sorts of competing *pragmatic* decisions and considerations [of everyone's opinions] that does not reflect in any way the moral and ethical considerations at stake.”
Professor Jeffrey J. Cohen, Director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute at George Washington University and co-editor of In the Middle, said in a statement, “While I am pleased that the MAA deliberated over the possibility of canceling the meeting, I am personally disappointed at both the decision to hold the conference in Arizona and the email that was distributed to announce that decision. Although the email mentioned fiduciary responsibility, membership opinions, and so forth, at no point did it state why a large percentage of the MAA membership is distressed at holding the meeting in Arizona: that the law passed by the legislature is racist and wrong. The MAA email was careful, it was factual, and it lacked moral courage.”
The annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America will be held in Tempe, Arizona, from April 14-16, 2011. It will be hosted by ACMRS (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies) at Arizona State University. The meeting, which moves to different locations around North America each year, is one of the largest conferences related to medieval studies.