The city of Boston is commonly referred to as “the overgrown college town”. In most contexts, this is an inaccurate representation of the city and its wide variety of offerings; however, for Model UN, it certainly does feel accurate. Boston has many colleges: 54 just within the metro area. Obviously not every Boston college runs a Model UN conference, but for us Boston residents, it does sometimes feel like we could go to a collegiate conference every other weekend without ever having to leave the city.
The ubiquity of Model UN conferences in Boston has resulted in some of the biggest, most competitive, best-ranked conferences in North America. In this article, I wanted to discuss 3 of the most significant conferences in all of Boston: Harvard Model UN, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Model UN, and Tufts Model UN. I’ve attended each of these conferences personally and thus can attest to the similarities and differences among them.
On the circuit, these three conferences are radically different in terms of popularity and philosophy. HMUN is the biggest conference in Boston with 3,000+ delegates attending every year and is widely known for valuing the pragmatic elements of Model UN over strict diplomacy. MITMUNC is a far smaller conference with somewhere between 500-1,500 delegates attending and is known for valuing a more idealistic approach to global issues. TUMUN is even smaller, with fewer than 500 delegates attending each year. I chose to compare these 3 particular conferences because HMUN is the Superbowl of the Boston circuit, MITMUNC is the stalwart, and TUMUN is the up and comer.
Conference management is essential to a proper delegate experience, and it manifests in multiple facets: the organization of the conference, the quality of the materials given, and the training of the chairs. In each of these disciplines, HMUN excels, largely because of the massive and high-performing secretariat which ensures that chairs are exceptionally trained and well-versed in the nuances of parliamentary procedure. The resources prepared by the conference are excellent, from the extremely detailed 60-page background guides to one of the most in-depth delegate preparation guides I have ever seen.
HMUN’S management exudes a degree of professionalism–unlike that of any other conference–which averts the typical hiccups and lack of attention to detail that tend to characterize student-run conferences.
MITMUNC’s secretariat, while considerably smaller, still manages to maintain effective overall organization; however, the lack of strictness and training for the chairs is highly apparent. Different chairs operate using varied versions of parliamentary procedure, whereas some run committee with almost no understanding of proper procedure at all. That being said, the number of inexperienced chairs has begun to decrease and training seems to be improving every year. While the inexperience of the chairs can be somewhat frustrating, the flexibility afforded by some of the more relaxed chairs can be a charming aspect of the conference.
TUMUN is the smallest of the three, hence organization does not impose as much of a strain on the secretariat. The secretariat seems to do a good job of ensuring quality across all of the training materials and background guides, which are very helpful. However, the committee quality can be inconsistent between the one General Assembly committee offered annually and all of the other crisis rooms. Whereas the crisis backrooms are often exceptionally well-run and thoroughly staffed, delegates in the General Assembly committee tend to feel like the chairs have limited chairing experience and require further training. That being said, with the conference being so small, having chairs trained in hyper-competitive Model UN might have detracted from the intimate training environment which nurtures novice delegates.
HMUN uses a lot of technology right from beginning by using MUNBase registration; this is a software that allows the conference to collect delegate information in a very structured and centralized way (online, that is). HMUN also recently implemented the system of Committee Blogs, which replace traditional position papers with an online blog response to a question posed by the chair which is posted and viewable by the rest of the committee. Delegates are expected to monitor the blog carefully leading up to the conference weekend and are required to respond to at least one post. Lastly, during the conference, HMUN chairs utilize projectors in the committee rooms and permit universal computer usage. In general, these technological innovations improve the efficiency of the conference. For example, the MUNBase registration is great for advisors and head delegates, and the projectors are very helpful to delegates who rely on visual learning. However, the blog posts are a mixed bag; where they do allow for some interesting debate before the conference begins, the sharing is also a double-edged sword in that HMUN asks delegates to include a high degree of detail in sharing their solution ideas. For many–including myself–this raises questions of plagiarism in that solutions from the mandatory blog posts typically end up being written into every working paper because of their publication online.
MITMUNC uses far less technology: it sticks to the traditional position papers, does not allow computers at all during committee, and still uses traditional website sign-up forms for registration. During the actual conference, committee rooms often have access to multiple displays, one of which is across from the speaker and displays the time left in the speech. The speech clock is an extremely popular amenity at MITMUNC, despite the fact that it creates dependency by providing a crutch for speakers. Each committee room also has an awesome surround sound speaker system which–in the hands of the right chair–can make the final committee session hell for committee rooms sharing a wall. TUMUN is more or less the same as MIT in this case, offering a pretty standard amount of technology for a Boston conference without the multi-display systems or speakers of MITMUNC.
Committees and Participation
HMUN is comprised of a wide variety of committees with many crisis committees, specialized agencies, and General Assemblies. Each category pertains to a different committee size, and some are double delegation while others are single delegation. The variety is appreciated and it makes every HMUN feel different. What remains entirely consistent, though, is the delegate quality and participation. I have been to many conferences with lots of very good delegates; however, within the confines of the Boston circuit, HMUN has the highest concentration of high-quality, competitive delegates per committee, and the lowest number of checked-out delegates sitting in the back row on their phones. The strong quality of engagement is likely because it is very common for schools to begin preparing months in advance to meet the HMUN blog post deadlines, which are almost 2 months prior to the conference weekend in late January. The inclusion of the blog post deadlines is surely a deliberate attempt to bolster conference preparation, ergo ensuring a competent and well-researched pool of delegates to compete with.
MITMUNC very clearly advertises the merits of its small committees, which are 20-40 delegates on average, most of which are specialized agencies with a couple of General Assemblies and crisis committees intermixed. MITMUNC committees consistently address a wide variety of interesting issues each year, and the chairs are always very passionate about the topic of debate. MITMUNC’s focus on regional assemblies and regional topics are one of the best features of the conference because it provides a nice theme that binds multiple committees together beneath a common thread. Delegate ability is far more inconsistent than HMUN; most delegates are pretty average, but there are still plenty of very strong delegates in the conference who come very well-prepared. As a conference located truly in the center of the Model UN season, the first week of February, a lot of local delegates come with smaller teams that train for MITMUNC for a longer time and are exceedingly well-researched, but less familiar with country policy.
The balance of delegate strategy at MITMUNC makes for a high quality of debate without some of the exceedingly competitive behavior that occurs at HMUN. The backstabbing and drama tend to get in the way of the more substantive proceedings of committee.
TUMUN is one of the most unique conferences I have ever attended in terms of both committees and participation. Most of the committees are crisis, and there is only one General Assembly, which is a refreshing departure from the typical collegiate conference which offers a swath of General Assemblies with only a few token specialized agencies or crisis committees. All of the committees are 10-30 delegates, and they each cover unique and intriguing topics or crisis arcs. This format for committees is uncommon in Boston, but it is a great time and something I wish more conferences would do. The committees at TUMUN in the past have all been extremely competitive; this is due to the fact that TUMUN used to be positioned in April, so only the most committed and competitive schools in New England would show up. The quality of school that TUMUN attracts makes for productive, focused, high-quality debate in all committees.
HMUN is extremely competitive for both individual and delegation awards, which results in many schools prioritizing General Assembly committees as to increase their chances of individual awards and their team’s chances of winning delegation awards. The most competitive schools in attendance often have several years of experience at HMUN and have multiple years of strategy creation to ensure that they win awards. These schools are extremely good at training delegates and tend to take home the delegation awards for several years in a row.
MITMUNC’s award’s policy has a connotation of being notoriously unjust. The number of awards given out per committee varies dramatically, despite the fact that most of the committees are roughly identical in size. MITMUNC has long expressed its dedication to awarding delegates who pursue collaborative, diplomatic solutions. In practice, though, the conference policy often contradicts itself by delivering awards to delegates who failed to submit position papers or blatantly violated country policy during debate. The delegation award system at MITMUNC has not been gamed in the past and there does not appear to be a clear dominant strategy, which always makes award ceremonies very unpredictable and fun.
TUMUN’s award policy is very consistent and very demanding of the delegates in attendance; most committees only give out 2 awards and the single General Assembly only gives out 3 awards.
Awards are delivered to delegates embodying both competitive-pragmatic and cooperative-diplomatic strategies; in this regard, the TUMUN awards policy is superior in fairness and substantivity to most.
HMUN, unfortunately, seems to be a little focused on prioritizing the convenience of traveling delegate populations. Participation in bloc meetings outside of committee–something which is essential to the success of any delegate–is practically contingent upon staying in the hotel due to HMUN’s scheduling decisions. This is particularly true from Thursday from 10PM to Friday at 3PM when the next session begins. This scheduling decision is difficult to adapt to for students from Boston because most schools, such as my own, request that delegates attend school during the day while everyone else is meeting in the hotel. The structure of starting Friday after school and hosting back-to-back committee sessions all of Saturday and most of Sunday work much better, and this is the system that TUMUN and MITMUNC both utilize. In general, the prohibitive cost and schedule of HMUN make it less advantageous for students in Boston and many of the schools within the Boston Metro Area decide not to attend because of these reasons.
For general adjustments going forward, I suggest that HMUN make some structural edits to the conference schedule, such as moving the touring to Thursday and Friday mornings such that delegates have more continuous committee instead of the big gap on Friday morning which is currently allocated to training programs that many delegates do not want (or need) to attend. The blog posts are clearly in transition, and while I do have my concerns, it could very well be the future of Model UN just as easily as it could be phased out of use.
For MITMUNC, additional training on procedure and more calibration for awards would be a step in the right direction, and by taking a couple of small, intentional steps to increase the staffing quality like they already have been doing in the past couple of years, the conference could easily surpass other competing conferences in the area in the coming years.
Lastly, I personally saw TUMUN as the late season, small, hyper-competitive conference, and this year the conference has been moved to the beginning of March. While I do understand and support the desire to make the conference bigger and more accessible, and I have confidence in the staff at TUMUN can make that possible, I feel myself missing the late-season niche which no other conference fills. That uniqueness was an invaluable asset, and giving up the niche they dominated was a concerning choice, to say the least.
All in all, TUMUN, HMUN, and MITMUNC each bring distinctive delegate experiences to the table and collectively construct one of the best regional circuits in North America. My only hope is that delegates in the Greater Boston Area are aware of just how lucky we are.