Published in AMS Quarterly, vol. 5 (September 2002), p. 10.
Original manuscript. Copyright by author

Herbert Jack Rotfeld
Professor of Marketing
Auburn University

A letter to Wat A. Guy
Professor of Marketing and Other Stuff
Somethingorother University

Dear Wat:

Thank you for submitting to our conference your paper titled, "Marketing Concept and Postmodern Psycho-Linguistic Applications to Dysfunctional Consumer Behavior When Facing Rude Retail Clerks." We have received the comments from the anonymous reviewers and we must consider the paper unacceptable for presentation. While we are certain that the promised viewing of the videotapes of study subjects who were in Victoria's Secret fitting rooms might generate a lot of discussion, the law suit by the store's customers following your sale of the tape to the network reality program raises concerns for our potential liability if you also use the tape at our meeting. (I hope your legal problems don't cause too much difficulty in your follow-up study.)

Yet in the end, while one reviewer was extremely impressed with your ability to write in such a way that he had no idea what you were saying, the other reviews (enclosed) indicated sufficient concerns or problems that we had to give preference to other submissions.

This is my first time as a conference chair and the situation is most vexing. We had many fine papers submitted, but there is only so much time and space for presentations.

However, we want you to be able to attend our conference and realize that you need to be involved with the program to convince your dean or department head to allocate funds for you to spend on travel. In addition to the researcher presentations, we get some additional people involved by having some invited sessions or by having additional people serve as session chairs, and we are using these as much as possible to expand the number of people listed in the program. But this only takes us so far, and we want you and many other fine people like yourself to attend.

I am sure you share our desire that we help you to find a way to use your organization's funds to pay our inflated registration fees.

We were thinking of making you a session "discussant" or discussion leader, but having people with this title tends to weaken the attractiveness of the conference.

Actually, having a discussion leader as a special title for each meeting time is a bit of an insult to the session chair. I mean, let's face it, we already have a person with a doctorate and faculty experience in the front of the room reading off names and paper titles, yet we imply that the same person is not qualified to read the papers, make an interesting observation and call on people who want to make comments. And unfortunately, many discussants have run out of control, making lengthy and time-filling presentations of their own that kill all discussion on the papers presented.

People come to each research session to discuss interesting papers, and these discussants kill so much time, that the only comments on many papers end up coming from this single person we happened to place on the program for a session.

A new problem with discussants is that many deans are no longer seeing the role as a valid basis for giving travel funds. They know that we are just padding the program and that many discussants don't even show up to their appointed sessions.

So we have come up with a new idea, but it depends on you keeping the rest of this note confidential. Or, at least, don't tell any of the administrators at your school. We are doing this for all the senior people who submitted less-than-stellar work for possible conferences and this will be a way for you to come to the meeting and have your school pay.

In the advance programs and other materials to go only to program participants, we will list your paper and a dozen or so others in a sessions noted as "G," or "ghost session." This series of sessions will list your paper and a dozen or so others. But you won't have an assigned room for meetings, your paper won't be appear in the conference proceedings, and you need not be prepared for the talk. Your name and paper appears in the program only so you will have something to show back home with the indication that you have your name and research paper on the program. I know this is circular, but this is the strange way that schools decide who gets travel funding. And having your name on the program will tell all your friends that you will be joining us for the meeting.

Some people might raise an ethical concern of false advertising. After all, we are saying that people can come to town and see another interesting presentation by Wat A. Guy and your paper won't be heard. On the other hand, it is doubtful that anyone these days decides to attend a conference to hear specific papers. They decide to go to conferences, then once in town they might check out a session or three they will attend. People go to conferences to meet old friends or former students, to interview faculty recruits or for new jobs, to see a certain city or to do the business of the association. And, while there, they get involved in interesting academic discussions of new work.

Beside, the ghost session is much more honest than having discussants. Both items exist to help more people be involved at attend, but at least having the paper listed for G-time will not encourage you to hog all the time during a regular research paper meeting and prevent real discussion.

Let us know as soon as possible if you would like to have your paper listed in the G-session for the conference so we can prepare the program. We think this is a great idea for getting more people involved and we look forward to seeing you in the Spring.

Ima Just Tryingtoplease
Conference co-chair