Academic teams frustrated with funding

CAT received $190,000 in funding for the 2013-2014 academic year, a 5.56 percent increase.

By Sarah Miller

Every spring, a committee of representatives from the five biggest academic teams on campus sit down at the negotiating table and vie for money. Student Government  (SG) provides the committee—called the Council of Academic Teams (CAT), which is made up of Debate, Mock Trial, ChoMUN/Team, College Bowl, and Chess Club—with an overall funding level, but largely leaves it up to the teams themselves to decide individual allocation. No one can leave until a decision is reached.

Tensions over the process have become exacerbated in recent years as steadily increasing membership in the RSOs and stagnant SG funding have placed tighter financial constraints on members of the committee. This year’s process ended with Mock Trial formally and unsuccessfully appealing the council’s decision to the SG Assembly.

“Sometimes we debate diplomatically, sometimes angrily,” Mock Trial vice president of finance and third-year Peter Tang said. “An RSO will [say they] deserve this amount of money or need this amount of money to cover travel costs, while the other RSOs are saying they are already getting too much. Very slowly, we make compromises.”

Tang is not a fan of the process.

“[CAT] is a big mess; it’s supposed to have structure, but it usually collapses [at the allocations meeting],” he said. Tang said that because the members of CAT are responsible for dividing the allocation among themselves, they are always vying to increase their budgets at the expense of other CAT members.

The process starts in early- to mid-May, when each RSO in CAT submits a budget for auditing to the council about a week before the annual allocations meeting.

During the meetings, a representative from each RSO explains their budget and any proposed changes, and each RSO has the opportunity to question each other’s budgets, according to Tang. CAT members then sit down and decide on funding amounts for each other. The meeting is not adjourned until the members are able to come to an agreement.

“It’s an interesting organization because the teams are auditing each other, asking how many people they sent to competitions, how much it cost, how much they spent per person, which SG wouldn’t do,” said vice president of Debate and fourth-year Brad Cohn.

Tang said that RSOs will usually strategically overshoot their budgets, in hopes that they will receive their targeted budget after negotiations.

Last spring, Mock Trial’s vice president of finance Naomi Jacobs (A.B. ’13) gave an impassioned plea to the SG Assembly for more money, citing that both Debate and Model UN were spending overwhelmingly more per person than the members of Mock Trial. She also said that in order to stay within the confines of their budget, Mock Trial members traveled in 15-person passenger vans to tournaments, which are extremely unsafe.

In defense of the allocation process, CAT president and Debate president fourth-year Kyle Painter said that CAT tries to distribute funds evenly. Every RSO had an increase in their budget this year, Painter said, and no single RSO received more than a third of the additional $10,000 of SG funding that was provided for this school year.

“The representatives of CAT most understand the needs of the teams and have a good sense of what the other teams are doing,” he said.

Painter said that funding to CAT has been fairly flat—with allocation increases in the single digits—whereas all of the RSOs in CAT have seen double-digit increases in membership over the past few years. Mock Trial, Debate, and Model UN have especially had huge spikes in membership, Painter said. For this school year, CAT received $190,000, a 5.56 percent increase from the 2012–2013 academic year.

However, even with the annual increase in allocation, College Bowl, Chess Club, and Model UN ran deficits last year, while Mock Trial broke even, according to Tang, and Debate ran a surplus. One of the key determining factors in determining how the SG funding will be meted out is the relative financial responsibility of each RSO and whether or not it was able to spend within its budget.

“[CAT members] are requesting more money because they are going over their budgets. The system is designed to reward RSOs that are fundraising and spending within their budgets,” Tang said. “But the end result of the votes is padding budgets of the RSOs that are unable to break even.”

ChoMUN/Team president and fourth-year Eric Wessan could not be reached for comment on this article.

Editor’s Note: Peter Tang is an Associate Photo Editor for the Maroon.