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RSA 2020 - Message from the RSA President

Dear Members of RSA and registrants of the 2020 Biennial Conference,

I write to inform you that we have canceled the 2020 Biennial Conference in Portland, OR. The circumstances that led to that decision have been difficult and the fact that we will not gather in May is disappointing. Nevertheless, this is the right course of action. Since I wrote you last, the CDC has issued further recommendations that restrict national and international travel. Various states have closed non-essential businesses, and academic institutions have extended their prohibition on face-to-face instruction through the rest of Spring semester. Behind the scenes, RSA’s executive director, Jerry Hauser, along with Kerry Fine, our partner with Experient Inc., have been negotiating with the hotel and our conference vendors. On March 20, all related parties reached an agreement that allows RSA to cancel the 2020 conference without financial penalty. Although RSA will face some challenges in the coming 12 to 24 months, this outcome does not threaten the Society's solvency. Thanks to careful planning, we will be able to draw on our reserves to cover a revised budget that no longer includes the conference. Most important, the decision to cancel the conference protects the well-being of our members/registrants and, I hope, it provides everyone with a little more certainty in these uncertain times.

Conference Registration Refunds

Because the conference will not take place, everyone who is currently registered will receive a full refund. You do not need to contact RSA to request that refund; it will be processed back to whatever method of payment you used to register for the event. We do, however, ask for your patience. Kathie Cesa will begin working through the list of registrants next week Wednesday, March 25. She cannot begin earlier than that date, because she is currently processing refunds for other academic organizations and associations who canceled their March and April conferences before RSA did the same.

There is one condition under which I encourage you to reach out to Kathie Cesa at If you would like to donate your registration fee to RSA to assist the Society through the coming year, you are welcome to do so. RSA cannot provide you with advice about whether that donation is tax deductible, but you may want to speak to an accountant or review the relevant tax information on your own. If you choose to donate your registration, let me express my gratitude now. Thank you! We will put your donation to good use in the coming year.

Hotel and Travel Cancellations

If you haven’t already taken this step, now is the time to contact the hotel to cancel your reservation. You should inform them you were coming to Portland as part of the Rhetoric Society of America conference, May 21 - 24 but that the conference has been canceled due to the pandemic and federal, state, and local responses to COVID–19. In addition, please contact your airlines for a refund or repurposing of your ticket.

Your Fantastic Presentation

Although the conference will no longer transpire, it is appropriate to list your accepted paper and/or panel on your CV, provided you have a paper written and ready to go. You might consider the following wording:

  1. Wilson, Kirt H. “Administrative Leadership in the Midst of Pandemic Crisis,” a research paper accepted for presentation at the 19th Biennial Rhetoric Society of America Conference, Portland, OR, May 2020. Conference subsequently canceled due to COVID–19 pandemic.

This is just a recommendation. Graduate students and faculty are encouraged to check with their departments regarding whether and how to list any work that you have completed for presentation at the 2020 conference.

Final Thoughts

In closing, there are several individuals I wish to thank. I want to thank Jerry Hauser for his labor and leadership over several extremely stressful weeks. He is the individual who negotiated most directly with the hotel, with our attorney, and with our conference vendors. Jerry will soon retire from the position of Executive Director and RSA will be looking for a new ED. Dr. Hauser’s expertise and energy will be missed greatly, especially among those of us who have worked with him most closely.

I want to thank Kathie Cesa for her work behind the scenes, first on registrations and now on registration refunds. Kathie provides staff services for several academic associations, and she has been working tirelessly over the past month to help members from RSA, Central States Communication Association, the Eastern Communication Association and other organizations. I am very grateful for her efforts.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to President-elect Michelle Ballif and her conference team–Diane Davis, Karma Chávez, and Byron Hawk. They have been planning this conference for over a year, and its cancelation is a disappointment to them and to all of us. Their planning would have moved our events forward in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, in particular. From selective financial support for graduate students to enhanced accommodations for all attendees, the 2020 Portland conference would have been one of the most inclusive conferences we have ever held. We need to recognize this team for its amazing work and commitment, especially over several weeks when they had to continue planning even as circumstances changed around them. I ask that you convey your gratitude to these four people. Tell them you appreciate their labor on behalf of the conference and let them know that although the 2020 event is not possible, you see the service they have performed and respect it. Assure them that the work they performed for the 2020 conference will be replicated in future RSA events.

Finally, I thank you, the membership of RSA. RSA is still working through a transformation that sustains its tremendous history and culture as it attracts new members with diverse interests. The upcoming conference would have been an important step in that direction. And yet, despite the disappointment of having to cancel our conference, I cannot help but have enormous faith that RSA will thrive in the coming years. Under the leadership of Michelle Ballif and future presidents and with the support of Board members and volunteer leaders, the Rhetoric Society of America will move forward. It will find new ways of understanding and sharing rhetorical knowledge, and it will become more engaged in relevant conversations within the academy and beyond. If I could give each of you an elbow bump right now, I would do so.

Thank you for your patience, understanding, and encouragement during this challenging period.


Kirt H. Wilson President,
Rhetoric Society of America

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