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The abuse of the Copeland Fund

Anya Cohen

Before I begin my verbal attempt at tearing the Copeland Fund a new one, admittedly, congratulations are in order. Congratulations to the recent recipients of Copeland funding. The application certainly doesn’t seem to be a cakewalk, and according to the “Copeland Fund for Independent Study” page on the Wooster website, the grant is “highly competitive.” So, Mazel Tov. Spend it wisely, and may it hopefully make you wiser.

Felicitations are also most certainly due to the College itself. There is a reason why U.S. News & World Report continuously recognizes our “outstanding” undergraduate research program, and the availability of Copeland funding for projects is likely a factor in Wooster’s ranking. Surely, many Independent Studies would not be written and researched as well as they are if it weren’t for the financial support that the Copeland Fund provides. For this reason, and surely many others, the grant is certainly due great recognition and respect.

Though certainly recognized by the campus community, it has become all too evident that elements of Copeland funding are not respected. The most blatant form of Copeland disrespect — “abuse” may actually be the more appropriate word — comes from outrageously superfluous student requests for money to be spent on absolutely unnecessary ventures. Year after year, I hear reports of students applying for funds so that they can take expensive trips to wherever a prospective interviewee calls home. And why shouldn’t they? It clearly states on the Copeland webpage that the committee will often grant money for students “to interview important figures in a student’s major field of study.” While the website may give you the green light to apply for these kinds of trips, I sure don’t. Did Alexander Graham Bell actually invent the telephone after 1995, the year that Henry J. Copeland set up his fund? Have we entirely forgotten about that useful computer program we call Skype? Sure, some trips may legitimately be necessary in order to interview relevant sources, and if those sources are pertinent to the completion of your I.S., I say go for it. However, if it’s not necessary to jet off to France or even road trip to D.C. to conduct your interview, don’t ask the Copeland committee to give you gas money or reimburse your plane ticket.

What’s even worse than the student demand for unnecessary funding is the Copeland committee’s track record of granting these types of requests. While I am not aware of any application for an unnecessary trip that was funded in full, there are students who were given a portion of the money they requested to back an unneeded project. The decision by the committee to appropriate any dollar amount to nonessential projects is disrespectful to the legitimate Copeland candidates when you consider that every dollar given to one project surely means a dollar less is given to another. I charge you, Copeland committee, if you don’t believe a candidate has a justifiable need for the funds, don’t give them a cent. And students, if you know your project is dispensable, save the committee the time it takes to read an application and just don’t apply.

My interest in saving the Copeland committee time is less for the benefit of the professors who sit on the committee and more for the students who are waiting for responses to their applications. The issues here are twofold. Firstly, if a student is applying for Copeland funding with the intention of going on a trip, it’s quite possible that this outing will take place over winter break. Many students and their families like to vacation during this time, and the looming potential of a Copeland funded trip can really stand in the way of making plans. Secondly, the rule of thumb for plane tickets is that the longer you wait the more you’ll pay. Regardless of what the plane ticket costs when the student applied for Copeland funding, you can rest assured that’s not what it will cost by the time the student hears the verdict of their application. It’s possible that this temporal issue could be solved with an earlier application date or making Copeland application sorting a higher priority, but surely cutting down on the number of applicants would help the cause.

I can’t express enough how much I appreciate the existence of the Copeland Fund. The I.S. journeys that Wooster students choose to embark on their senior year is a total testamentto their academic rigor. The last thing that I would ever want (and I’m sure the school stands with me here) is for a student to be unable to complete a project due to a monetary hurdle. That’s why, future students, I beg you, stop applying for Copeland funding when you don’t need it. The amount of time and money that you have wasted with your unnecessary application could have just cost someone else an amazing project.

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