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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Student groups react to planned TCU Senate travel cuts

The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate’s decision to cut off-campus travel and related expenses from student groups’ budgets next year has elicited strong reactions from many student organizations, especially from members of groups that rely heavily on travel to inter-school competitions.

“Without travel funding [from] the Senate, we’re looking at a 90-95 percent decrease in our budget,” Tufts Mock Trial Treasurer Mandy Xu told the Daily in an email. She explained that in addition to semesterly dues, students in Mock Trial contribute a great deal to their competition and travel expenses each year. They also raise funds by networking with law firms and test preparation companies in the Boston area.

“With so short a warning, we simply do not have the time and resources to build the type of fundraising and sponsorship infrastructure that would make up for the complete loss of our Senate aid,” Xu, a senior, said. “Without that Senate support, Mock Trial would be cost-prohibitive to any student on financial aid, and even students not on financial aid.”

According to Xu, since the Senate does not allow groups to budget for tournaments in which participation is not assured, Tufts Mock Trial usually applies for supplementary funding for the National Championship Tournament in April each year. However, this year the fund has run dry, prompting the team to set up a GoFundMe fundraiser in an attempt to crowdsource donations for the tournament, which will be held in Cincinnati, Ohio this year. Xu described this strategy as a “desperate emergency appeal” which would not be sustainable in the long run.

In an interview with the Daily published yesterday, TCU President Robert Joseph said he is still not sure what next year’s budget will be, although TCU Treasurer Adam Kochman said in the same interview that Senate may decide to fund regional travel. According to Xu, however, this is too late for Tufts Mock Trial.

“Registration fees for the tournaments we attend have to be paid over the summer, and we have to confirm our attendance before the school semester begins,” Xu said. “Competition groups have delicate infrastructures both within and between teams that cannot be sustained on ‘maybes.’ Not knowing whether we can compete means not knowing whether we can exist.”

In response to Joseph and Kochman, Xu explained that Tufts Mock Trial had been receiving funding for travel, accommodation and registration fees for regional tournaments since team's founding, which occurred before the Senate began to spend its surplus a few years later.

“For 2016, they’re planning on going ten years back in time,” she said.

Kochman and Joseph emphasized that it is unsustainable for the TCU Senate to continue funding national travel, but according to Xu, the regional travel funding that Mock Trial needs on a regular basis is the real issue.

“This has been the talking point I’ve had the most issue with, because it distracts from the issue at hand,” Xu said, adding that national travel had never been built into groups’ budgets and was instead argued on a case-by-case basis for funding from the supplemental fund.

“The cuts that the Treasury has made to our budget have nothing to do with national travel,” she emphasized. “We’re worried about regional travel.”

“[TCU Senate] is eliminating all regional travel and associate expenses. For groups like Tufts Mock Trial, that means the elimination of our entire budget,” she said. “What we’re struggling with … is that they’re telling us we can’t leave the towns of Medford/Somerville.”

“Without competing, there is no purpose to Mock Trial,” she said. “There are groups for whom cutting regional travel is an inconvenience, and there are groups for whom cutting regional travel is fatal. We need the Senate to find a solution that does not result in the elimination of our presence from this campus.”

Junior Arlene Rosenbergand sophomore Emily Garber, co-managers of Tufts Quidditch, explained that even though the team competes against other Boston teams every weekend, it needs to travel outside Massachusetts at least twice a year to compete in the Northeast Regionals in the fall and, if the team qualifies at Northeast Regionals, the World Cup in the spring.

“Cutting the travel budget will be manageable for our team, but will restrict our out-of-region practice and will make it harder for us to develop as a team,” Rosenberg and Garber told the Daily in an email, noting that competing in inter-regional tournaments to gain practice with different styles of play was the main strategy behind their regional championship win this past November.

The Tufts Quidditch team will continue to sell shirts, have grilled cheese delivery nights and raise funds through their website in order to supplement players’ team dues and tournament fees, according to Rosenberg and Garber.

“It will be difficult to raise the money [next year] but it’s not impossible,” they said. “The only issue we have is the ability to fundraise thousands year after year -- which makes us worry for the future of our club. Quidditch is a growing sport and we want to offer the opportunity to everyone, not just to those who have the money to pay to play.”

Nonetheless, Rosenberg and Garber added that they understand the Senate's logic in its decision.

Adam Kochman has been nothing but helpful to our team during his term as treasurer, and we are grateful for all the help he’s given to us in the past two years,” they said.

Molly Chirunomula, co-captain of Indian classical dance team Pulse, explained that travel funding is very important to the group, especially because classical Indian dance is “a pretty niche form of dance … among college campuses.”

“It’s a small circuit,” Chirunomula, a senior, said. “These [competitions] are hosted wherever schools have the capacity to hold them … so we’re kind of limited in terms of options. Every year we apply to … three to four competitions and we try to compete in at least two to three.”

“If we can’t travel, we can’t compete,” she said. “We’re trying to contribute to this network and establish our own presence, and I think we’ve done a really [good] job of that, but in order to get to the point where we can host [our own competitions], we have to engage with the circuit that’s already there, which means that we have to go to the schools that are holding these competitions.”

Chirunomula explained that there is a chance that supplementary funding will be available for regional travel next year, but travel beyond a certain distance from Tufts would not be funded at all.

“This year we’re going to Seattle and California because those are the competitions that accepted our application. If that were to happen next year, that would be kind of an issue,” she said.

According to Chirunomula, the team is looking into various other fundraising options, including contacting Boston-area dance organizations such as dance schools for possible sponsorship.

“The fallback is always to ask our members for personal contribution, but there comes a point where it’s not reasonable anymore,” she said. “We don’t want to limit students who are able to join the team based on whether they can afford it.”

Pulse is a pretty new dance team … and we’ve actually been doing quite well [in competitions], so this is kind of an unexpected setback,” Chirunomula added. “We’re really hoping that it won’t prevent us from continuing to grow and succeed at what we’re doing.”

Brian Pilchik (LA ’14), a former president of Tufts Mock Trial, has been vocal in his opposition to these cuts.

“Our travel teams work hard to represent this school,” Pilchik told the Daily in an email. “They deserve to be funded just as much as anything else Senate pays for.”

Pilchik founded the online letter-writing campaign #saveourteams, asking members of the community to send letters to TCU Senate voicing their concerns over this change.

“The outpouring of support is overwhelming, from Tufts students, alumni, and even competitors from our rival schools,” Pilchik said. “Students from as near as Boston University [and] as far as Duke University wrote in to say that they loved meeting Jumbos and want to keep competing with us.”

Pilchik called for TCU Senators to work with student groups to find a compromise, a sentiment which Xu echoed.

“Without [the Senate’s] funding we collapse, and if we fall apart for a year, it’ll take us many more to get back to where we are now, and right now we are one of the top ten contenders for the National Championship title,” Xu said. “Tufts is famous to other schools’ mock trial programs.”

“We want [the Senate] to sit down with us and negotiate a set of solutions that are acceptable to both the Senate and the affected student groups,” Xu said. “We want to establish a short-term solution that lasts through next year, which will hopefully give our groups and the Senate time to figure out a more long-term solution.”