Analysis of College Conference Committees: Should Delegates Be Outraged By Fantasy Committees?

by KFC on September 28, 2011

Should Harry Potter be allowed in Model UN?

The college Model UN landscape has evolved into two very different circuits with differing philosophies on how Model UN should be simulated. Recent discussion on the preseason college rankings article highlighted a key difference between the two college circuits: the simulation of non-United Nations committees including those that are fictitious or futuristic. Think Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. 24. Paradise Lost.

This is an issue for both circuits. We have heard from many delegates among the World Division schools (those who attend NCSC, SCSY, etc.) and from an infamous YouTube video that some of these fantasy crisis committees have gotten out of hand — they may still teach group negotiation and decision-making skills and may be fun but the committees are not substantively valuable or academically rigorous. Many International Division schools and conferences (NMUN, etc.) do not support the simulation of non-United Nations committees at all and believe Model United Nations conferences should only simulate United Nations bodies and affiliated organizations.

Have these so-called fantasy committees gotten out of hand?

We analyzed the committee types for all the 2011-12 North American college conferences that have published their committee lineups as of September 28, 2011, and sorted conferences by the percentage of each type that they simulate. There are four types of committees:

  • UN & Regional: present or historical UN committees and other international and regional organizations. Examples: General Assembly, ECOSOC, Security Council, European Union.
  • Cabinets & Forums: present or historical cabinets, forums, and national organizations that address public policy or international relations. Examples: French Cabinet, Chinese Communist Party, US Senate. We included Press Corps into this group.
  • Non-UN, Non-IR: present or historical decision-making organizations that may influence but do not primarily focus on international relations or public policy. Examples: Facebook Board of Directors, FIFA, NYPD Leadership Council.
  • Futuristic & Fantasy: any committee that requires an element of fictitiousness regardless if they are related to international relations or not. Examples: Lord of the Rings, Trial of Kim Jong-Il, the West Wing, India-Pakistan 2013 (or any year beyond the 2011-12 school year).
So again, have these so-called fantasy committees gotten out of hand?

For many participants in the International Division, the answer would be yes. Model UN should be about the United Nations, and there are plenty of conferences that keep this philosophy true. Half of all the 2011-12 North American college conferences in Model UN still simulate traditional UN committees or a combination of UN committees and other public policy and international relations-related cabinets & forums:

Almost all of these conferences fall under the International Division (Harvard WorldMUN and Berkeley UCBMUN are exceptions as they are usually associated more with the World Division). But overall, delegates in this division have many conferences to choose from and those who attend these conferences will never encounter any fantasy committees or even any real-life organizations that are not necessarily related to international relations (e.g. FIFA or Apple Board of Directors). Therefore, they can either focus on maintaining the UN-only characteristic of their existing Model UN conferences or criticize the other half of the circuit in favor of reform toward UN-only or IR-only conferences.

For participants in the World Division, the consensus answer is more difficult to ascertain. Model UN can be about the United Nations, policy-making cabinets, or a simulation of any type of real or fictitious organization that is known to mankind. Another half of the 2011-12 North American college conferences include committees that are non-UN or non-international relations into their committee lineup, and this illustrates a huge demand for committees that are not within the traditional Model UN realm. Here we have divided the World Division conferences into three categories: Traditional IR (mostly UN & regional committees and cabinets), Cabinet IR (mostly cabinets and forums), and Diversified (a mix of different types with no type comprising over 50% of the lineup).

There’s a healthy mix of different types of conferences to attend and most conferences are predominantly related to international relations. None of the conferences focus on the fictitious, futuristic, or fantasy committees. In fact, these type of committees only make up a total of 6% of all committees in the World Division conferences so few delegates will ever get a chance to experience them.

So why all the outrage? Is it because fantasy committees should not have a place in Model UN? Or is it because there are issues in terms of the quality or quantity of them at a Model UN conference? If it’s the latter, is reform still necessary?

There are probably several points of view from most conservative (anti-fantasy) to most liberal (pro-fantasy):

Model UN should not have any fantasy committees (or even non-IR related committees). This would probably be argued by traditionalists who want Model UN to be only about Model UN — only United Nations bodies should be simulated.

There should be a minimum number or percentage of United Nations committees to qualify as a Model UN conference. This would probably be argued by traditionalists who want Model UN to still be mostly about Model UN but understand there is value and interest in non-UN committees. They may not want their conferences to look like NMUN but they are fine with a minority lineup of other types of committees like the ones HNMUN and UPMUNC have. A more liberal version of this policy would be to have a minimum number or percentage of any type of international relations focused committees (i.e. UN committees + cabinets).

There should be a maximum number or percentage of fantasy and futuristic committees that a conference can be allowed to simulate. This would probably be argued by those who don’t see the current state of Model UN to be a big issue but want to make sure that fantasy committees do not get out of hand and water down the international relations focus or present issues focus of the conferences. A more conservative version of this policy would be to have a maximum number or percentage of fantasy & futuristic committees as well as non-UN, non-IR committees.

Conferences can choose their lineups but fantasy committees should have some type of standards. This would probably be argued by those who enjoy fantasy committees and think they are acceptable simulations to teach leadership skills but just want to ensure that there is some level of quality when fictitious elements are built into the background guides and crisis scenarios.

Ultimately, this is an issue for college conference leaders and head delegates to discuss and decide.

Do you think there should be standards on committee lineups for Model UN conferences? Do fantasy committees require some type of reform? Or is the circuit actually fine and a minority of people are just making a huge fuss against committees that they rarely even get to attend?


  • Sam Stone

    We at dalton MUN don’t care. We will win at every conference we attend, and in any committee regardless of topic. Any other school that attends conferences we go to is just setting themselves up for embarressment. Dalton delegates will put you all in your place and gavel in every committee. We challege any school to even try to work with us without getting easiy beaten

    • Guest

      Given that MUN is about cooperation, this is an awfully counterproductive challenge. I would hope the actual winners on your team are a bit more mature than you.

      • Samuel_stone


        I just wanted to clarify that I am the actual Sam Stone, a sophomore at Dalton, and I did not post that comment. It is beyond me why someone would choose to go on Best Delegate and post as another student, but regardless this has happened to members of our team before, and no matter who is doing it, I would appreciate it if you stopped.

        The actual Sam Stone, ’14 at Dalton

  • Ashley I.

    I personally think fantasy committees are fine–while a large purpose of Model U.N. IS to simulate the United Nations, its functions, and enforce the value of international relations, I think that mocking the U.N. simply serves as a structure to teach more intrinsic values, i.e. working with others, speaking, diplomacy, and adept problem-solving.

    If a delegate can learn debate, caucusing, global citizenship, and the value of leadership–which I believe is the ultimate purpose of MUN–then what does it matter if it’s in the form of, say, Harry Potter or Security Council?

    • Jsjsja

      You are right.

    • Gulfcoast fbgm


  • Nir Kumar

    Personally, I believe MUN was intended to be used as a way for a) raising awareness of pressing issues local, regional or international, b) providing some tangible experiences of the processes and situations that we are faced with in the real world and are otherwise not provided in a classroom setting, and c) to bring people together to further the dissemination of ideas and solutions not only for the 1 weekend, but for a long period of time through the fostering of real relationships and creation of an epistemic community.

    The reality of the current situation is that people who are interested in the International Relations of the 21st century are not only aspiring academics, foreign service servants or politicians. This is because international relations have an effect far larger than just those fields in the 21st century – business, social dynamics, human rights, media, journalism are all affected by IR and are a part of IR. Therefore, committees in Model UN, while still simulating UN committees should do so not because they are just part of the UN, but because they reflect areas where significant issues that we will be facing come graduation day. Non-UN committees, so long as they work towards the three merits mentioned above, are equally useful if not more so, for a world where specialization in interest and areas of study is happening at an increasingly earlier stage for students. The realities of the international arena and the needs of university students have evolved, and so must the Model UN format evolve from only simulating UN committees.

    So if conferences can convincingly argue that committees like “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings” provide the same intended merits of MUN then that’s fantastic. However, I have yet to be convinced.

  • Aakruti

    I think that MUN should be about diplomacy. Obviously the first three categories all accomplish this. However, I feel that the fantasy/futuristic category should be broken down into pure fantasy and future based on current events. For example, pure fantasy is Harry potter, etc. And future based on current events is along the lines of republican National Convention 2020. I feel that while the latter is ok, many pure fantasy committees don’t embody the spirit of Model UN. This rings truer and truer the farther the “plot” of the committee deviates from reality or potential reality. If a secgen or chair really wants to do a pure fantasy committee maybe one per conference might be ok but more than that is unnecessary and, once again, not in the spirit of Model UN.

  • Rachel Bradford

    As the chair of a Non-UN, Non-IR committee at CIAC, I feel that such committees provide delegates to exercise their knowledge of diplomacy and negotiation skills in a non traditional way. I wasn’t really a fan of non-Traditional MUN committees until college when I realized that they provided a great way for me to remain engaged in MUN and never really get bored. After doing MUN since middle school, you tend to see a lot of the same things. But now I definitely find myself participating in a more diverse range of committees. Last year I was on the Paradise Lost: First and the Fallen committee at SCSY; UPMUNC’s Ad-Hoc: Freedom Fighters and CTU as a Freedom Fighter and I ended my year on McMUN’s incredible NHL lockout committee. The reality is that you can raise awareness and provide an incredible learning experience in an environment that’s a little more light. I took away from my experiences last year incredible experiences (my most favorite committees in MUN) and great friendships. I even found a possible future career avenue through McNHLPA 🙂 I found that my experiences on these committees were just as rewarding (if not more so) and provided me with just as much of a tangible negotiating experience as any GA or Specialized agency I’d been a part of in the past. I encourage conference leaders to really allow their chairs to explore what drives them and to make a committee they are passionate about-regardless of whether it’s traditional, non-IR or fantasy/future. IN doding so, you’re creating a better conference for yourself because you have chairs that are more willing to innovate and create simply because you’re allowing them to do something that is of interest or significance to them

  • Just_Chill

    I agree with Rachel. Why does everyone have to push their world view on to others? There is not set definition for what Model UN should be. Get over it already.

    On another note: As a delegate that has attended CMUNNY, SCSY, NCSC and UPMUNC I have always wondered why is it that conferences release their background guides so late in the process. I understand that these are supposed to be “Crisis/Security” committees, but this whole process is getting a little ridiculous. Release the background guides on time. After all, we do pay you almost $100 a delegate, in most cases, to provide us with a service.

    • Kant_Kant_Kant_Kant

      SCSY and UPMUNC are tied for worst conference planning. Is it really that hard to have guides out on time?

  • Guest

    I think this website is great. The comments below about SCSY are so spot on. I know that Yale is Ryan’s home school, but their lack of accountability during this time period leading up to their conference is shameful. For what it is worth, my school routinely wins awards at their conference (think Best Delegates top 5) and even we are considering not attending SCSY in the future.

  • Guest

    Looks like the best delegate censors are out in full force. Kudos, Ryan.

  • Stopthemadness

    SCSY committee guide countdown is on. Will they have the professionalism and courage to apologize to the delegates attending? How many days will it take our friends over at Yale to post the committee guides? They promised us our guides last week and now they don’t have the courage to face the fire.

    • John Ferguson Give us our dignity, give us our guides!

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  • Lucas Arnaud

    I was chair at a Futuristic Arctic Council and I believe that this kind of committee might call attention for themes that today are ignored. An issue that is not very problematic today might be in 5 years. Futuristic committee, if well-planned, help the students to be prepared for the problems that will strike the world when they are already working, maybe already being diplomats.
    As studying the history helps us to not repeat the mistakes of the past, simulating the future can help us to avoid mistakes in the present.

  • Anonymous

    I’m only in High School, but I think fantasy committees are fundamentally useless. As a head delegate, I teach my delegates that MUN is a training ground for future diplomats, politicians, business leaders, and international relations academics. I understand that some conferences have non-UN committees such as WAMUNC’s simulation of the Good Friday Agreement, but that was historically important, so that makes sense. Fantasy committees don’t teach delegates about anything historical or real for that matter. So you now have my two cents.

  • Esha Jain

    I have a Harry Potter committee this weekend which aims at mixing real world history with morphing the events to be a result of magical beings. I think its great fun to have to research on the World Wars and incorporate fictional beings in real historic events. It has only made me want to study every liitle detail and linchpin of every incident that could potentially be great material to develop upon. So i guess not only am i researching like a delegate for a simpler conventional committee but also using my imagination and quick thinking skills to come up with I’d say, conspiracy theories and directives in the continuous crisis committee. Everybody has a different outlook on debate and i think the introduction of fantasy committees does not mean the disappearance of traditional un committees. It helps muns reach a greater number of people too.

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