About a year ago I let my membership to the CMS (Canadian Mathematics Society) lapse. This has not come easily for me. It is my hope that Canadian mathematicians have an effective and engaged society. But I feel the CMS has done too little for Canadian mathematics in relation to its economic burden, and has lost its way.
On coming home to Canada, I organized a few special sessions at CMS meetings and saw first-hand what I witnessed more distantly, as a participant at CMS meetings. They are expensive. Registration tends to be in the $200+ per person range. This is often rationalized as the cost of hosting such events at conference centres. But even when CMS meetings are held at universities and hosting expenses are less, they are not any cheaper. My impression is that the CMS uses meetings to meet its economic targets -- that the CMS would be bleeding money if it were not for the high costs of its meetings.
As an organizer, pulling together even a special session can be difficult. Speakers have to come from vast distances. Grad students and postdocs generally do not have money to support their travel. If we wish to invite a grad student or postdoc from Montreal of Hamilton, they will have travel costs of over $1000, hotel costs anywhere between $300 and $600, and then conference registration fees of $200, making a weekend meeting cost over $2000. If you are a grad student or postdoc, likely making less than $42,000 per year, with little or no other support, going to a CMS meeting is usually not a good idea. The result is that CMS meetings tend to be dominated by established researchers, making them a fairly low-energy affair. The CMS should be helping the mathematical sciences grow, and not just be a platform for established researchers to showcase their stuff.
At the last meeting I organized a special session, internally I was fuming about the costs of the meeting. I was shocked at how callous the CMS administration was regarding expenses. At the end of the meeting I recieved a rather elaborately-designed plaque commemorating the special session. All the special session organizers recieved these. Had we *not* recieved these we would have had some money left-over to lower the cost of the meeting, or to fly in other participants. What disturbs me is how un-focused on their mission the CMS is.
I would be happy for the CMS to help us celebrate our achievements but, please, let's do something worth celebrating first.