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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Mock Trial denied funding to attend national tournament

Published: February 11, 2005
Section: News

Note: This article has been corrected to include three paragraphs inadvertently omitted in the print publication.

The Brandeis University Mock Trial Association, which last week won a coveted spot at a national tournament in Florida, may not be able to attend due to funding constraints. Neither the Student Union nor the University will provide funding for transportation and lodging for the event. Mock Trials experience vividly illustrates a problem that is increasingly frustrating leaders of successful and high-achieving Brandeis clubs.

Chartered by the Student Union Senate in 2001, Mock Trials stated purpose is to prepare for and compete in tournaments run by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA). However, the club has had problems since its inception fulfilling this purpose because the Student Union Finance Board (F-Board) refuses to fund travel and lodging.

F-Board Chair Andrei Khots told the Hoot that the decision not to fund such expenses was a pragmatic one, because about three dollars are requested for every dollar that we have to allocate. Budgetary constraints simply do not allow us to pay for transportation expenses, he said. The F-Board has a budget of approximately $200,000 for the Spring 2005 semester.

Mock Trial team captain Sam Dewey 06 believes the F-Board policies should be revised. I think an exception should be made for competitive teams. It is something where travel is integral. It cant be done without travel, he said.

I think that the Finance Boards current policy not to fund travel comes from the idea that we dont like to fund things that are overly exclusive and specific, said Student Union Treasurer Aaron Gaynor. Still, he acknowledged problems with the current system. Clubs unable to get money from F-Board or Senate just go around begging, trying to find anyone who can pay for them. There are systemic problems in the way we allocate money. We are also not doing enough to educate clubs on how to properly fund raise.

The Student Union Senate traditionally uses its discretionary budget to fund some club requests that F-Board will not cover. In this case, the Senate will not be able to cover the clubs expenses, according to Class of 2007 Senator Jenny Feinberg 07. The Senates limited budget could not possibly offer enough aid in the Mock Trial teams efforts to obtain $4,000. While the senate unanimously supports the Mock Trial team, several senators and I believe that it should be the administrations responsibility to help fund this national competition, she told the Hoot.

Last Sunday the Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support of Mock Trial and critical of the University. The resolution commended the club for its substantial growth and noted that “the typical college student cannot hope to cover such expenses and certainly does not anticipate covering such expenses to participate in University sanctioned activities, especially those that bring national honor unto the University.”

Mock Trial is chartered by the Student Union and has no formal sanction from the University.

The resolution continued that “this feeling is compounded by a feeling of inferiority in our school's failure to provide such funding despite, the fact that, upon information and belief our peer schools provide said funding [sic.]”

Asked about the Unions responsibility to support Mock Trials costs after choosing to charter a competitive organization, Feinberg called the question irrelevant, since none of the current Senators were there at the time. Once the team is competing on a national level and spreading Brandeis name, it should fall upon the administration to offer assistance, as they always have with the Debate team, she said.

Rosenthal Quad Senator Josh Karpoff 07 agreed. The University is not adequately supporting its student groups. Besides for Mock Trial, we have many other competitive groups, such as club sports, that do not get enough funding. The result is a situation like we have with (Mock Trial), where they dont have the means to go to a national competition, despite having earned their way there.

University funding can come from academic departments, which generally have very little discretionary money, grant programs like the Brandeis Pluralism Grant, and the Retention Fund, overseen by Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Jean Eddy.

Assistant Vice President Brian Walton manages the fund. The Retention Fund is a gift fund that was established and gives us a limited pool of money that we can use to help support student life on campus, he told the Hoot. The fund provides about $40,000 per year, or one-tenth the amount overseen by the Finance Board.

The fund has traditionally been used to supplement costs for competitive and traveling groups, and for major cultural events like Culture X. Walton said that Mock Trial had already been granted money from the Retention Fund for their regional competition in Manchester, Connecticut. Unfortunately, we dont have enough in this limited pool of money to fund them without having to turn down other clubs that come through, he said.

Instead, Walton suggested that Finance Board and the Senate re-evaluate how they choose to charter and fund clubs. It is difficult for the University to supplement the number of clubs and organizations we have on campus. With groups like Mock Trial and the Debate Team, a great deal of what their activity is is competing at some other institution.

When chartering clubs, Walton believes the Student Union should evaluate each clubs long term budgetary needs and make decisions based in part on whether they are sustainable. We should actually look at their activities and what theyre going to try to engage in to determine whether or not they should be chartered, whether or not they can be supported by the SAF, he said.

The result of this back-and-forth between Finance Board, Senate, and the University is anger and confusion among club leaders. Some feel it is the Universitys place to fund competition groups, while the University counters that the Student Activities Fee, now totaling almost $1 million each year, should be adequate. Without changes in how that money is divvied up, many feel it is unlikely that problems of club funding will be solved any time soon.

For team captain Dewey, who pays is less important than getting the money necessary to compete. We thought the school would support us. We were just shocked, heartbroken. We feel betrayed, we feel stabbed in the back. Mock Trial is planning a major fund raiser in an attempt to raise some of the money required to travel to Florida.