News from ISA


ISA 2020 Travel Update- March 9, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

As we’re sure that everyone knows, ISA is facing a set of difficult choices at the moment regarding the annual convention that is set to begin in Hawaii on March 24th. We have heard from many of you directly via phone and email and have also read the many thoughtful comments on social media and other forums. Please know how much we value that input and how seriously we take the views of our members. You are indeed ISA.

Along these lines, we are trying to make decisions about the convention as soon as we can confidently do so. Throughout this challenging time period, we are also doing our very best to collect the relevant information to make the most informed decisions we can. That is a delicate dance in this very fast-changing global situation, but ISA’s leadership has been evaluating the options so that we can best serve our members now and into the future. In that context, the health and safety of our friends and colleagues have been first and foremost in our minds as we have worked through options and those issues will remain at the top of the list of factors as we continue to work on this difficult set of decisions. We assure you that we are constantly keeping up with the guidance from the WHO, the US CDC and the Hawaii Department of Health on an hourly basis and have spoken many times with the relevant authorities about the situation.

As some of you have speculated in your emails and posting, legal and financial obligations are also part of the decision-making calculus. ISA has contracts with hotels, AV and daycare providers, other vendors and commitments with sponsors, exhibitors and much, much more, that continue to be evaluated by our legal counsel. Whatever happens moving forward, ISA will be financially impacted by any decision we make regarding the convention. That impact will ripple in our ability to provide services to members (e.g., travel grants and workshop grants) perhaps for several years. As a result, due diligence in our dealings with contractual partners is more than warranted.

All that said, we anticipate having more guidance for members by the end of this week. I know that many of you are hoping for information sooner than that. Sooner may happen, but at this point, we can’t make promises about how the situation will evolve.

As always, please stay in contact with ISA HQ at


Cameron Thies                                                Mark A. Boyer
ISA President, 2019-2020                               ISA Executive Director

Posted in: Annual Convention


X. Hubert Rioux
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 10:31 AM
Why is there no withdrawal/refund option on the ISA website, available through our user account? This would simplify things so much and cut emails in half, if not more, for organizers!
Caleb Lauer
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 11:54 AM
I feel the ISA leadership is in a very difficult position. I think it is worth appreciating that those weighing whether to cancel the conference are weighing a decision that will impact the financial health and viability of the organization. This is obviously no small matter, and those who are having to make this decision deserve our respect and understanding.

I also feel some things might be worth clarifying.

1. Leaving it to individuals to decide whether to attend puts unfair pressure on individuals. People may feel obligated to attend so as to not let down fellow panelists, etc. They may have to travel in order to recoup travel expenses.
2. Individuals may not want to travel to the conference for reasons other than concerns for their immediate health and safety: for example, I assume many people worry about the potential that upon returning from abroad they may be forced into quarantine or self-isolation - meaning that a one-week absence from home could turn into a three-week disruption (or more) in their lives.
3. Considering these two points, which are just two examples of many factors weighing on people, I’m uncomfortable with the ISA’s (however understandable) concern with their contractual obligations. The logic seems to be that only by having people attend the conference (i.e., pay the registration fee) can the organization hope to fulfill its contracts (and thus avoid being sued, and so remain viable, etc). Given the scope of what people will be considering and the range of pressures they will be under, the ISA’s leaving it up to individuals whether to attend is, I feel, asking too much of its members.
4. Also, I can’t imagine any court enforcing contracts broken by one side due to prudent decision-making in the context of this (yet to be declared) pandemic. How many such gatherings have already been cancelled?
5. I feel language like “a delicate dance in this very fast-changing global situation” may confuse the issue more than clarify it. As everyone knows, the global situation is indeed fast-changing, but it is not changing in a back and forth way, from storm to lull, from better to worse, or from chaos to calm. The fast change is in one direction: The SARS-CoV-2 virus is simply spreading, with more people getting sick everyday. The social, economic, and human costs are simply growing. It is a bit distracting to suggest that some hyper-nuanced, sophisticated set of decisions made by the ISA could mitigate any challenge this situation presents to the conference or the organization.
Costanza Musu
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 4:50 PM
By today (March 10th) It is well know that (for example) two people who attended a Cybersecurity conference have contracted coronavirus. This is just one of a myriad similar stories. Maybe the time has come to recognize that, as an act of civic duties towards participants, their families, and their acquaintances, this annual conference needs to be canceled. Let’s move on to the next step, for example launching a fund-raiser (especially among tenured members) to support the organization and make sure it can continue functioning in the future. As International Studies scholars how long can we sit on the fence pretending this is not a pandemic? Isn’t this a bit of a paradox?
Luiza Freitas
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 9:22 AM
As a student who was fortunate enough to be a recipient of a travel grant to attend this convention, and is going to attend for the first time, I see no reason to cancel. If people are scared to contract any diseases at all, they should not attend and that is a personal choice. But to cancel the entire event, impacting the whole organization for years to come, and cutting down the chances of people who want to meet and discuss papers... sounds extreme. I do hope ISA does not succumb to fear by pure pressure of other organizations canceling their events...
Here in Brazil we have way worse diseases and nothing is canceled because of it. Covid-19 is not as deadly as people make it out to be. If you are within one of the danger groups (elderly, people with pre existing conditions, etc) I understand your fear. If not, it is like the flu. You contract it, you get remedied, you get better. Spreading panic and canceling events planned over a year beforehand will help no one.
Andrew Kydd
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 9:47 AM
Not seeing an easy way to notify ISA that you are no longer planning to attend. Most of the people on my panels are not coming, including me. Does ISA know how many people are already not coming?
Kai Michael Kenkel
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 2:10 PM
I largely agree with the above. All sympathy for ISA decisionmakers in this case, but it seems like there is a balance to be struck here between ISA's locked-in costs and those of participants. At least in my national context (Brazil), if the event is not formally cancelled and I do not go--as I have been repeatedly advised by health authorities under "threat" of quarantine and lack of coverage--I'm stuck having to repay the cost of my airline ticket out of my own pocket to the funding agency. This is about 80% of a monthly net salary for an Associate Professor at the moment. If I go I risk contracting the virus and self-quarantine upon return, to say nothing of drastically reduced interaction at the conference given other institutions' bans. If I don't go I'm out an unreasonable (and unattainable) chunk of money. With so many institutions now banning travel and/or calling for quarantine, the cost for individuals is also very high. In this sense, with full sympathy for the Organization and not telling anyone there something they aren't already taking into account, the decision is also about balancing attendees' needs with those of the institution, and its outcome impacts the ability and option to attend future Conventions beyond this one. Wouldn't want to be in the Board's shoes, but individuals, as stated above, don't have the same ability to concentrate the representation of their interests. This is indeed a delicate equilibrium.
Áslaug Ásgeirsdóttir
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 2:34 PM
Most of my panel is not going, my pre-conference workshop has been cancelled, and my college is now banning all non-essential travel. So I am not going, and like Andrew Kydd, I don't see how I am supposed to let the organization know.

One thing ISA could think about is to see if people are willing/and able to forfeit their registration fee to the organization, to lessen the financial blow of cancelling.

The reason not to host the conference has to do with prioritizing public health at this point, and not risking overburdening local health infrastructure in case there is an increase of cases.

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