January 13, 2004

Model U.N. requests more money for conferences

The Model United Nations Team (MUN) launched a publicity campaign against what they claim has been a lack of sufficient funding for academic teams by the University and, more specifically, by the Student Government Finance Committee (SGFC).

David Siffert, Vice-President of MUN, said the lack of funding is especially serious for teams as successful as Model UN, whose success, which reflects positively on the school, is also severely limited by its budget. The team was among the top three schools at conferences at Yale and the University of Pennsylvania.

"We know SGFC has a lot of cash, and we have a great need for cash, so we figured we would request funding from them," Siffert said. "They didn't really want to fund any conferences, because they were worried that there would be a run on the SGFC coffers with big requests like ours. They tried to change the rules to suit their needs."

"We're trying to bring this problem into the limelight," Siffert added.

MUN's concerns are related to the team's experience with SGFC, which had added a clause to its guidelines saying it would have more money to allocate to RSO conferences this year.

The team had initially requested $17,000 to attend a conference at McGill University in Montréal. When SGFC denied the proposal, MUN changed their request to $7,000 and appealed to the College and Graduate Councils. The team was again denied the requested funds.

"Due to the nature of MUN, we are forced to pay for hotels, and international airfare is fairly expensive," Siffert said. "We already charge our members $100 to go to a conference, which is significantly more than any other team on the circuit. Given all this, and given our past success, we feel $7,000 is definitely a reasonable amount of money for such an event."

SGFC Funding Guideline 13c states that SGFC must take into account "the cost of the activity per student expected to benefit directly by the activity; and whether such cost is consistent with the cost per student of similar activities funded by the Finance Committee."

SGFC typically funds events where the costs are limited to $15 per person or below.

The first proposed MUN budget, for 28 people, totaled $17,197.40 ($614.19 per person) while the second budget, for 16 people, totaled $7,295.80 ($455.98 per person).

SGFC Chair Ben Mainzer noted that 13c, while not a strict rule, must be applied within bounds of proper discretion. "The jump from $15 to $456 is extreme and [contrary] to our funding guidelines." Referencing the rule, Mainzer said: "I feel it is disingenuous to state that a request of $7,295 for 16 people is reasonable."

Bo Shan, SG President, agreed. "It's really very simple—we were in no way trying to ‘stiff' MUN," he said. "Their request was simply far too expensive on a per person basis. Grand totals are obviously not as pertinent as per capita figures."

Mainzer said he hopes MUN can understand that the University does not have the activity resources on par with our peer institutions. "I wholeheartedly sympathize with MUN and their funding problems. If it were feasible for SGFC to fund, we would have," he said.

Mainzer said RSO's receive nearly everything they request when they come before SGFC. "The determining factor is simply whether a budget meets our funding guidelines, a qualification MUN's budgets unfortunately did not fulfill," he said.

The Coalition of Academic Teams (CAT)—including groups such as Parliamentary Debate, Mock Trial, Chess Club, and MUN—receives funding from the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA) through a budget approved by the various teams.

Siffert said that MUN turned to SGFC to make up for the insufficient funding CAT teams received.

Siffert said that there has to be some way to get more funds to CAT teams, either through the CAT budget, SGFC, or some other source. "We could barely afford to go to the four conferences for which we got funds," Siffert said, adding that they had to send a "skeleton" team to the fourth.

"The immediate implication of this budget request is that SGFC is planning to restructure its guidelines, especially [any clauses] concerning conferences," Siffert said. "Hopefully the end product will be one that works for both SGFC and CAT teams."

He also emphasized the importance of this publicity campaign. "We had hoped SGFC could help us solve our problem, but apparently they cannot. What makes it worse is that other groups can probably make the same claim. We are really trying to get the word out on this issue."

MUN will go to Harvard in February, and if funding permits, Berkeley in March.