Dr. Peter Renstrom, a member of the WMU faculty for 37 years, dedicated his life to the study of politics. An important part of this work was the creation of the Mock Trial program at WMU. This program has no permanent funding source at the University and is currently supported by the generous gifts of alumni, faculty and friends, and one-time funding by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Lee Honors College.
This funding arrangement makes the program vulnerable by undermining recruitment, faculty and staff investment of time and energy, and community support. This vulnerability also limits the number of students the program can serve and places WMU students at a competitive disadvantage in national competition. The Department of Political Science has adopted a goal of raising $500,000 to fully endow the Mock Trial program. This endowment would provide funding to ensure the continuing success and future growth of the program.
The program has inspired, educated and assisted dozens of undergraduates, many of whom have continued on to law school and are now practicing attorneys. The department, the College of Arts and Sciences, and Professor Renstrom’s family are committed to preserving the Mock Trial program and increasing the number of students who participate. One important aspect of this effort will be the establishment of a permanent endowment to support registration, travel and instruction.
The long-term success of the program depends on community support, especially from lawyers and other members of the legal community. While many faculty advisers are political science or constitutional law experts, they are typically not lawyers. This means that a successful program needs local attorneys to help the students apply often unfamiliar legal concepts, rules, and current decisions to the case.
Local attorneys are also very helpful when it comes to trial strategy and presentation, how to move effectively in a courtroom, how to approach sympathetic and/or hostile witnesses, and what kinds of arguments are most compelling in bench trials as opposed to jury trials.
Interaction with local lawyers also helps students determine if they want to pursue a legal career. Students can see how real lawyers and law firms function and ask their attorney coaches about their caseloads and professional lives. These lawyers often take an interest in the students beyond mock trial, provide law school recommendations, and help students establish themselves in a legal community.
The time to invest is now.
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The largest expense for the Mock Trial program is the cost of travelling to and attending tournaments. An endowment of $500,000 would provide sufficient income to cover the travel expenses of three teams to regional tournaments and the national tournament
The WMU Mock Trial program and the Department of Political Science are working on a campaign to generate publicity about this opportunity for WMU students. The campaign focuses on educating our own students, especially our majors, about the program and contacting high school faculty advisers to recruit high school Mock Trial participants to attend WMU. Our objective is to recruit and attract students to WMU from approximately 60 Michigan high schools with Mock Trial programs.
Exhibits and equipment
Individual teams are responsible for preparing exhibits for presentation at trial. The team works with graphic designers and artists to prepare exhibits that may map out details of a crime or event, detail injuries or damage, or recreate important elements of the case.
The vast majority of universities and colleges that have mock trial programs also have faculty advisers. In fact, the American Mock Trial Association recognizes faculty advisers as the underpinnings of the program. Teams that do not have faculty advisers are at a significant competitive disadvantage. These teams do not have representatives who can voice concerns over tabulation errors, judging conflicts or other issues that arise during tournaments.
The faculty adviser is the liaison between AMTA and a participating university, as well as a critical part of the success of the program at any school. A faculty member in the Department of Political Science typically takes on the faculty adviser role. The faculty adviser not only teaches the for-credit class, but attends out-of-class meetings and practices, coordinates tournament registration and travel, and attends weekend tournaments.
A long-term objective for the program is to establish a permanent line of funding to provide compensation for the faculty adviser and for the attorney coach.
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