SBL Official Response re Student Presenters

I have looked for this on the official SBL site but I cannot find it posted there (I didn’t look all that hard). The letter was sent to me by my research assistant and given the discussion following my earlier post I thought I should share it here. I doubt that John would mind.

Dear Student Member:

The particular opportunities and challenges facing student members deserve focused attention. The Society of Biblical Literature is committed to this focused attention, and we will redouble efforts to develop programs and policies that provide students more opportunities and enable their interests to be represented in SBL governance. It is with this effort in mind that we are providing explanations of two policies recently adopted by Council regarding student participation in the Society’s Annual Meeting.

1.      All students without a doctoral degree are required to submit to the Program Unit Chair the full text of the paper they will read. The paper will be submitted at the time of proposal.  Student proposers will submit the paper they intend to read, not a full-length article intended for written distribution.

2.      The number of sessions students can participate in will be limited to one. This policy pertains to participation as panelist, presenter, and respondent.

Policies limiting an individual’s participation on the program have been in effect for much of the Annual Meeting’s recent history, and they are common among peer ACLS organizations. For a variety of reasons, in an increasingly pressurized academic market, SBL is reinstating these policies. Moreover, limitations apply not just to student members but to participants in general, and Council’s recent policy statement included actions concerning all members as well as Affiliate organizations.

Every member of Council was once in your position – a student member eager to contribute to the field and to engage with senior scholars. That remains a primary purpose of the Annual Meeting, and we encourage you to attend, submit a paper, and engage with colleagues. In addition, Council recognizes that the future of the field is in your hands, and that new ideas, fresh perspectives, and brilliant research are age-blind. Our student members push the profession forward and sustain it, not only through intellectual innovation but also exactitude, care, and hard work. We all know that there is much at stake for student members and that, as a result, you consistently produce work of a high caliber. These policies were made in part to mitigate those high stakes and to ensure that student presentations fit into a larger goal of fostering a diverse, moderated, and fair career path into academic life.

First: at every Annual Meeting we now schedule over 1,700 participants in ten timeslots. For the same reason that Council limits full members to two participations, students have the opportunity to participate once as panelist, presenter, or respondent at the Annual Meeting.  We are opening up the field to more student participants, and so more new voices. This allows for a more diverse SBL and Annual Meeting and provides more opportunity for student member participation.

Second: a traditional “guild” offers a pathway into its profession through a series of stages. For student members of SBL, that pathway is to submit and deliver a paper at a Regional Meeting, collect feedback from peers, and then to seek participation in the Annual Meeting after a process of mentoring, discussion, and informal peer review. The Annual Meeting does not replace Regional Meetings; indeed, the latter are an integral and rich testing ground for new ideas.

Third: because the stakes are so high for students and with the goal of modeling best practices for the field, Council agreed that a full-length paper submission is to the advantage of students and serves as preparation for that much-maligned academic master or mistress – the deadline. Limiting student members to one participation will facilitate their focus on one quality presentation in the midst of demanding thesis or dissertation work. It is also felt that the policies will increase the “currency” of student presentations at the Annual Meeting, making the notation of such presentation on a CV more valuable.

These policies will ensure more diverse representation of student work at the Annual Meeting, cultivate career path helps already in place for SBL student members, and model best practices that can serve as an example for all our members. Of course, all members should pursue the highest quality presentation, and student members present superb papers year to year, just as do independent scholars and tenured faculty. The intent behind these decisions, as I hope I have made clear, is to give students greater opportunity to achieve and display their important contributions to the field.

Students’ success at the meetings and in their careers, indeed, is Council’s main concern. As a Society, we will continue to develop and revise policies together, with the broadest interests in mind and in order to foster the future of biblical scholarship.


John F. Kutsko

Executive Director

Society of Biblical Literature