Students lead new USU efforts after previous campaign fails

Rendering of the the proposed new student union.

A campaign promoting a new student center is underway at Fresno State, after a separate, but similar, campaign last semester failed.

This semester, student leaders like Juan Guzman, member of the New Student Union Leadership Committee and graduate student, say they’ve learned a few new things.

Guzman said last year’s “Bold New U” campaign was led by a few student leaders as well as the Fresno State administration. This time, the administration has stepped out of the picture, he said.

During last semester’s referendum, 1,846 students voted “no” while 1,217 voted yes. But Guzman said that a need for more student space remained. Student leaders then decided to search for reasons why the Bold New U referendum was voted down, he said.

“Our first question was ‘Why? – Why didn’t this pass?’” he said.

The student leaders conducted listening groups in May and throughout the summer. The last group was heard from in September.

Nine sessions were held for about 200 students, according to Guzman. Three of those sessions were open to all students. The other six included Dog Days orientation leaders, student staff from the Student Recreation Center and University Courtyard, as well as a few university Greek chapters and clubs.

Guzman said the students expressed concern about the cost of the Bold New U, projected at $80 million. Now, the new student union is projected to cost $60 million, with hopes to raise $15 million in private donations.

Guzman said the marketing of the Bold New U was may have led to the failed vote. He said the administration may have pushed for the Bold New U without considering student concerns about parking and classroom upgrades.

Thirty student leaders make up the committee on the New USU. It includes students from the Student Involvement Office, the USU board of directors, and Associated Students, Inc.

Guzman said ASI collected data through a survey that was available to students for three weeks.

And last year, ASI also added the Bold New U referendum to the voting ballot. Blake Zante, ASI President and member of the New USU leadership committee, hopes the new project moves forward.

“I was very disappointed that the Bold New U didn’t pass at first, but also in a way I’m glad it didn’t pass,” Zante said. “It brought a lot of concerns to light that lots of students were having very valid concerns on our campus.”

He said he wants the New USU to represent what the campus actually wants. Zante plans to address concerns students might have about the new project and other campus issues that may set this project back.

“Not only do we want a product that all students are happy with, but we also want a product that all students vote for and approve of,” Zante said.

Both ASI and the New USU board hope to improve another issue from last year – student voter turnout.

About 14 percent of the campus voted last year, Zante said. Student leaders are now planning ways to get more students aware and actively participating in the voting process. Ideas include a kickoff event and more than one polling station on campus.

A survey released to students earlier this semester asked for what their thoughts for a new student union were and why they might have voted yes or no on the referendum last semester. It also gave students a chance to list what they want in a student union, in terms of services and spaces. About 1,607 students replied to the survey, Guzman said.

“Every single thing embraced by the new student union, from the cost, location features, timeline, it’s all the product of what students told us through the survey,” Guzman said.

One of the hindering factors of why the Bold New U did not pass was information surrounding its cost, said Zac Jones, USU Board of Directors chair of budget and operations.

The Bold New U fee was proposed to raise the student fee by 3 percent — $200 per semester. Now, it propose a $149-per-semester fee.

The fee, according to the newly launched new student union website, will cover the cost of construction and operation of the new building and will be imposed on students once the building is actually opened.

Once the bond or loan is paid off for the proposed student union, the fee advisory committee will revisit the $149 fee and explore the possibility of reducing the number to “prevent putting unnecessary fees on students.”

Student leaders aren’t only focusing their efforts on a new student union. They also took into account issues that students reported through the listening groups and surveys.

“Their [students] concerns were outside the USU, and a new USU being built, other than the cost,” Jones said.

As far as parking, Jones said the student leaders are working on a bike-share program on campus to help students get from Point A to Point B quicker.

To address students’ concerns about classroom upgrades, Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro announced plans to invest $26 million to modernize campus infrastructure at the beginning of the semester, including $11 million going toward classrooms. This money would not go towards the construction of a potential new student union.

“Our goal this year is just to bring a little bit more awareness to the different things that Fresno State’s doing to hopefully to alleviate these problems,” Jones said.

Jones said the New USU committee wants to do a better job at highlighting the issues expressed by students. He said that solutions are coming.

“We want this to be a product the students say yes to, not only some,” Guzman said.

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