Why your concerns over the New USU were not new

Renderings of the proposed New USU. (NewStudentUnion.com)

Enrollment at an all-time high. Parking issues. Tuition hike talks.

You may think these points refer to today’s climate at Fresno State. While they are aspects of current campus life, that was also the reality 50 years ago.

With students recently voting overwhelmingly to approve a New University Student Union, it’s worth looking back to when the current University Student Union was just an idea on paper. There was resistance then as there was now with the New USU.

We dug up archives of The Daily Collegian where reporters in the 1950s examined student life at a time when a new building was proposed for the growing population on the campus. What we found was not surprising – the challenges the university faced were not too different than they are now.

In both cases, the university had set out to build a “home away from home” of sorts. And in both cases, amid the cries against a student union and an increased student fee as a result, the students eventually voted to pay it.

That was the case in March, when 67 percent of students who voted in the Associated Students, Inc. elections approved the New USU. That support likely shocked those who were around for the Bold New U vote last spring, which failed by a considerable margin.

The Collegian’s spring 2017 editorial board spoke against the Bold New U. The university mostly led the efforts, and there was little education for the student body about what the implications would be if a new student union were to be opened and operated using their money. That was the biggest argument from the editorial board then.

The members of the spring 2018 editorial board now view the New USU as a building that will provide an experience unlike any other felt at Fresno State. There was heavy engagement on our online and print platforms by passionate students about whether or not this project should move forward. It was clear that this time around, there was more information readily available for student voters. Our demand now is that the New USU building process is a transparent one.

But still, even with all the facts for the New USU, students have taken the USU board of directors to task with concerns about rising tuition and the aging campus as a whole. They wanted those issues addressed before a new building could be laid on campus.

We understand that Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro promised the university would spend $26 million on renovating the campus. About $10 million is expected to be used for renovations in the North and South gyms. Another $5 million will be used to modernize what Castro considers “the oldest and most important spaces” on campus, according to previous reports by this publication.

The remaining funds are expected to be used to update classrooms in different buildings across the campus. Vice President of Administration Deborah Adishian-Astone said the classrooms being targeted for renovation are those that have gone untouched by major updates for the past 20 years.

The argument largely expressed by students was that the New USU would take money away from classroom renovations. Castro may have played his cards right by pledging millions in renovations ahead of a vote on a student union upgrade, or maybe his priorities are in the right place and students just needed to educate themselves on the facts.

As for parking, which is a heated debate among many who commute to campus, the university over the years has implemented plans to ease student transportation issues. In 1967, additional parking spots were constructed for the campus that was growing both physically and as a student body.

Today, the argument is that a new parking structure is a more beneficial investment than a New USU. The university has stated on multiple occasions that there is “more than enough” parking for students, if they choose to park at the Save Mart Center.

To combat the unfavorable parking location, the university established the “Bulldog Express” bus routes that are a free shuttle transportation option for any student with an ID card.

It appears there is money to go around for everything. The students who turned out to vote in the spring elections decided they wanted to use that money for something that could easily increase the value of the campus – both financially and by attracting more students.

The building will be a $60 million addition to the campus. Student fees will rise by $149 in order to pay for the building’s operation but only after the it opens in about four or five years, according to project representatives. Aside from student fees, the campus plans to raise about $15 million to cover part of the cost.

The current University Student Union caused student fees to rise by $9 in the fall of 1966, our archives report. Before ground was broken on the USU – which was first called College Union – Fresno State was seeing “record high” enrollment at 7,000 students, according to archives. And three other buildings were being constructed at the time the USU was being proposed.

To add to student worries, then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s administration was eyeing a tuition increase to state universities. Notably, students in the ‘60s were so angry that protests were taken to Sacramento against Reagan’s plan. Fresno State became one of the first campuses to protest the tuition-hike proposal – someone even hung an effigy of Reagan on campus.

This week, students at Fresno State will once again travel to Sacramento to ask Gov. Jerry Brown that he pledge to fund California State Universities more adequately amid concerns that the CSU trustees will once again hike tuition. We have reported that the California Faculty Association declares the state funding for CSUs as not enough.

It’s no secret that today, Fresno State enjoys one of the lowest tuition rates of any other CSU. The latest data from 2016-2017 shows Fresno State students pay roughly $6,313. CSU Los Angeles is a little higher at $6,383.

We have hopes that resolutions will be reached where tuition will not rise and Brown will seek more funding for the CSUs. But back to the New USU matter, the project does not seem to indicate that anyone’s ability to attend Fresno State will be impeded. In fact, we believe that when it is built, it will attract students from all over, and it will enhance campus life with its various features.

After all, making sure students have a good college experience may be the sole reason the Satellite Student Union exists today – let’s not forget about that one. Placed at the north end of the main campus, the SSU became a satellite to the USU when the USU became too small a space for the growing student population.

The SSU housed the loud events that were no longer suited for the USU, which then became a campus “living room” – for quiet events and studying.

The SSU cost about $1.5 million, according to Collegian archives, with about $150,000 for furniture. A $10 student fee was added to pay for the operation when it was opened in the 80s. Today, we enjoy conferences, performances and other events for students and their families in the SSU.

Students of Fresno State’s past laid the foundation for what exists today on this campus. They decided that students who would choose Fresno State in the years after them needed a “home away from home” in their four years here – even if it meant they didn’t get to enjoy those spaces themselves.

What the New USU promises is the same. The 2,728 students who voted in favor of the project may not be around when the New USU opens. But they have laid the foundation for the next generation of students to enjoy their stay at Fresno State.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of Collegian editors.

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