Students reject Bold New U project, fee increase likely to blame

(Courtesy Photo/Student Involvement)

The two-year long campaign for the Bold New Union came to a grinding halt last week after a majority of students voted in opposition of the fee increase which would fund the facility.

The result of the vote was announced alongside the winners of next years’ Associated Student, Inc. (ASI) positions Thursday, March 30, at the University Student Union pavilion. The new union voting outcome was the last item announced and was received by a silent crowd – in comparison to the cheerful claps moments before when the 15 senators and three other executive officers were announced.

Dr. Frank Lamas, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, who was a main proponent of the Bold New U, said that although he wished the referendum passed, he respects the opinion and the vote of the students.

“I am very disappointed that it did not pass. However, the voice of the students was loud and clear that they did not want a fee increase,” said Lamas. “The pros and cons of having a new facility and the fee is something that they obviously were concerned with, given the vote.”

The final tally was 1,846 no votes to 1,217 yes votes.

The University Student Union Board of Directors responded to the outcome, also acknowledging that the students’ voices were heard.

“We will take this as an opportunity to reflect upon the many conversations that we had with the thousands of students that were for and against the initiative,” the statement read. “We will continue to work with our campus partners and will not give up on the Bold New U. There is still a need for a new student union. As the student body continues to grow and evolve, Fresno State needs a facility that meets the needs of current and future students.”

Within the student population the reactions to the results varied.

“The students spoke – there was about a 500 to 600 vote gap in there, that’s what they decided,” said Blake Zante, ASI president-elect. “That’s how they feel.”

Many were not as neutral as Zante.

Dan Waterhouse, alumnus and current student who was a panelist for The Collegian’s Campus Conversation on the Bold New U, said he was disappointed with the decision.

“As most of campus knows, I supported the proposed Bold New U,” he said. “I still do. It is needed along with new and renovated classrooms. Although I’m disappointed with Thursday’s ballot result, I’m confident this project will eventually move forward.”

Alejandra Rocha, a natural sciences major, said she was happy about the outcome because she did not want student fees to be increased.

“We had people come to our classroom and speak about what they wanted to do with it and from what I got from it was kind of they wanted it for aesthetic purposes. I feel like [the Bold New U] was not for us, it was more for them to attract new students,” Rocha said. “They told us it was going to come out of our pocket. Also, they said it wouldn’t affect financial aid students, but it is going to affect them. I’m kind of happy it didn’t pass because, me personally, I don’t have the kind of money to be sparing.”

Andrew Dadasovich, a political science alumnus who also was a panelist in the Campus Conversation, said he is proud students are recognizing the need to keep fees low.

“Diversity in our student body must be a priority over luxury buildings like the [Bold New U],” Dadasovich said. “Thank you all for taking on the challenge of voting against the administration in favor of future students.”

Looking forward Lamas said he would be meeting with Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro, other colleagues, student involvement, ASI and students to regroup, learn and see what might be the best next steps.

“We will rethink it. We will learn from the situation and there is always possibility we could come back next year and have a referendum,” Lamas said. “We will be trying to better understand what happened.”

Lamas added that a referendum and a fee increase were voted on when the Student Recreation Center was presented to students a few years ago. Student fees – of which Fresno State has the lowest in the California State University system at about $895 a semester – pays for all the student involvement and engagement activities. This includes events such as FresWOW in the beginning of the year and other Rec Center activities.

To ease the impact that raising student fees would have on students, the administration was looking to fundraise at least $15 million, out of the potential $80 million the student union project would cost.

“We have mentioned that we can fundraise even more than that, that we would reduce the fee if we could find more money – we just didn’t know if that would be possible or not,” Lamas said. “We were talking a best guess of how much we could fundraise, but obviously if we could fundraise more we would have lowered the fee at that point.”

He added: “There, at some point, has to be trust. We said we would not move forward until we would have at least $15 million raised for the new union. So minimally we were looking at $15 million, so at that point it was a commitment we’ve made for this brand new facility.”

Although disappointed in the decision, Lamas said he commends the students who came out and voted – for or against – because it is part of a democratic system.

Now starts the period of seeing if the referendum should be proposed again or “whether we should just hear the vote and move on to other things – that’s where the balancing act will be in the future.”

This story was contributed by Jessica Johnson.