Miami Law boasts more than 50 active student organizations, each with its own unique membership, mission and goals, and many law students will attest to the importance of extracurricular activities and opportunities to network with other like-minded students.
With more and more such organizations being created each year, however, Miami Law's administrators decided that it would be easier for the students if dues for membership to some of the groups were eliminated.
"We asked student groups to stop charging individual dues unless they had obligations to pay national dues," said Janet Stearns, the dean of students. The Black Law Student Association was one of those groups, and its dues remain $35. Shawn Hairston, president of BLSA, said the money is used strictly to pay national dues, which go toward participation in conferences that focus on networking and employment opportunities.
Some other organizations at Miami Law had to receive approval to keep asking for dues. The popular student group Miami Law Women received a go-ahead from Dean Stearns to continue collecting membership dues despite the policy change, but the amount was lowered significantly, from $40 a year to $10.
Lana Naghshineh Aponte, the president of Miami Law Women, said that the checks for dues are payable directly to the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, of which the Miami Law group is a chapter. Traditionally, the chapter raises funds only for women's charities, and not for its own benefit.
Dean Stearns said the decision to nix most membership dues was driven by the concern that "our students would not feel that they were being charged right and left" for student activities.
"It was also because we are trying to look at ways of minimizing the transaction costs for all of these organizations," she said. "For example, if student organizations want to charge their members $5 for pizza at a business meeting, they can collect the money at the meeting. But when we deposit dues for large numbers of organizations in our law school budget, there is a lot of paperwork and red tape to get students reimbursed, and we don't feel that it is an efficient use of our resources."
While the changes are undoubtedly causing student organizations to rethink their resources, there are still mechanisms for support from the school. Miami Law funds and caters up to three events that involve outside speakers for each student organization, in addition to funding substantial travel for Miami Law's two moot court boards and publication and symposium costs for all law reviews.
By working closely with the Student Bar Association and the Law Activity Fee Allocations Committee, Dean Stearns said that, despite the policy changes, Miami Law is "ensuring that the budgets of these organizations, generated by mandatory student fees, are used for maximum benefit to improve the quality of life of our law students."
As part of that effort, Annette Hugues, director of the Office of Events and Conferences, said she and her staff are available to assist student organizations in planning their events. "Our staff can guide students in coordinating room reservations, catering, budgeting, and other aspects of event planning," she said. "We're committed to ensuring a successful event."
In addition to doing away with most dues, Miami Law has created an online budget request process. "This is really the same process that has been happening for years in paper, but the online system will be more efficient," Dean Stearns said. "Students can complete an online form to request funding, I can approve it automatically, and notice will go to the Events and Budget offices so that invoices can be processed more quickly. This should save us all a lot of time in the long run."
Dean Stearns said that while the number of student organizations on campus continues to grow, these changes offer relief from the pressure of an expanding network of dedicated law students and, in the end, offer greater support for big ideas. Miami Law recently granted official student organization status to four new groups: the Muslim Law Students Association, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, and the National Security & Armed Conflict Law Review.
"We are working hard to find efficient ways to support all of these organizations and their many activities," Dean Stearns said. She added that Dean Patricia D. White "has been extremely supportive of student programs and services financially, and yet is trying to focus resources on activities of strategic importance."