Venue Selection: News and Background to Austin, TX for 2023.
This year we worked to make the venue selection process for the 2026 annual conference more accessible and to have opportunities for input and questions from the SICB community. Continuing with those efforts of openness, here I recap that work and try to provide more information to address questions about venue selection for Texas and the 2023 annual meeting.
My best, Melina
Melina Hale, SICB President
SICB 2026: This Spring’s efforts to be transparent during the venue selection process included: an open questionnaire, discussions at society-wide forums and with the Executive Committee (https://sicb.org/amo-committees/), information was also shared in emails and regular SICB communications and open office hours were scheduled for small group conversations. Faced with unprecedented and rapidly changing federal and state laws or proposals, we narrowed the list of venue options for this year. Specifically, we excluded states with or considering laws criminalizing providing gender affirming care to dependents as they deny the identity of these dependents and put caregivers at risk of arrest. For more information on venue selection see the President’s message in the spring newsletter (http://sicb.burkclients.com/wp/?page_id=1794) and linked document.
The Executive Committee ultimately voted for Portland, OR (which will follow Seattle WA in 2024 and Atlanta GA in 2025).
SICB 2023, Austin TX: Texas as the venue for SICB 2023 has been of concern to many and for a number of reasons including: anti-LGBTQIA+ state laws, anti-abortion laws and prohibition of the use of state funds from other states, particularly California, to travel to Texas. Questions have arisen over why Texas was chosen as a venue and why the venue wasn’t changed as state laws have changed. We’ve gone back to records to try to clarify that process as well as summarize more recent considerations.
Initial selection process:
In April 2015 there was an Executive Committee vote on the proposal that Austin (JW Marriott) be the SICB 2020 venue. The selection was unanimously approved, 21 to 0. As this was an action between meetings, the approval was read into the minutes of the January 2016 Executive Committee meeting.
In 2016, SICB received a strong bid from JW Marriott, in part related to the 2020 conference decision, that offered the same space and contract for 2023 with significant additional incentives. The Executive Committee voted unanimously to approve Austin as the 2023 venue at its January 2017 meeting. Records show 20 members were in attendance.
At the time, the rubric for venue selection included factors such as: Accessibility (transportation and cost) of the city, walkability and availability of inexpensive meals, appropriateness of the conference spaces and costs and whether wifi is complementary. State/local politics were in the rubric as they relate to scientific issues. We could not find a record of that discussion.
Major concerns were raised about Texas as a conference location leading up to the 2020 meeting in Austin. Burk Associates Inc. evaluated the impacts of moving the 2023 conference and presented their assessment to the Executive Committee at a special Executive Committee meeting that happened out of cycle on March 18, 2020. Retaining the contract was viewed as the only financially viable option.
- Canceling the 2023 meeting would result in SICB paying Austin cancellation penalties (approximately $500K) without the offsetting revenue from attendees and other sources. We estimate this to be approximately 85% of all unrestricted monies available at the time (cash on hand and invested funds that weren’t restricted by donors or previously board-designated for specific priorities). Such action would have put SICB perilously close to bankruptcy.
- Moving the 2023 meeting, which may not have been possible due to space needs and other requirements, would have resulted in SICB paying most Austin meeting costs and then paying another venue at higher costs. Even with offsetting revenue of attendance, the cost of moving the meeting was projected to be higher than the cost of canceling altogether.
Keeping SICB 2023 in Austin was approved unanimously, 18 to 0. In comments of those voting sentiments were expressed that moving/canceling didn’t seem to be a reasonable option. The idea to reserve funds to support California attendees limited by state funding restrictions was also noted as was, hopefully, that the issue would be resolved shortly and concerns about Texas would be alleviated. We note that this meeting occurred at the beginning of the pandemic and broader instability on many fronts was top of mind.
Future SICB conference venues:
This spring, in relation to the consideration of potential 2026 venues, a range of perspectives were expressed. There was advocacy for not considering some states due to anti-LGBTQIA+ and anti-abortion laws and for other reasons. There was also advocacy for keeping those states on the list for a range of reasons including in support of colleagues and students living and working there. Concerns were expressed about the costs, intellectual and financial, of any decision to SICB members and other conference attendees as well as to the society. With such an important topic, inclusion and the SICB community, we aim for discussions to continue and are grateful for the expertise of the Broadening Participation Committee, Public Affairs Committee, Membership Committee and many other individuals and groups in the Society for their contributions.