By Gilbert Davidson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
November 5, 1997

Union renovation needs student support

Dear fellow UA Students:

The time has come to address the issue of the Student Union construction and the proposed fee that has yet to be approved by the student body. This project has been one of the most complicated and difficult issues in recent University history and involves each one of us. Last spring, you, the student body, elected me to serve you, represent you and understand this very bureaucratic University system. I have done this and will continue to do this to the best of my ability. I believe we have one of the finest universities in the nation and we, the students, can be proud of our accomplishments and our efforts in contributing to this University.

The Student Union is in dire need of major renovations and is severely lacking in usable student space. This fact has been known for some time and numerous committees were formed (a University's way of analyzing a problem) to study the situation. Those committees included students, faculty, staff and administrators. Many arguments, debates and discussions have taken place as a result of the Student Union. To some, the administration has acted too slowly in fixing the problem, and to others, they are moving too quickly in trying to rebuild the Student Union as a functional structure. Either way, the Board of Regents has authorized the University to proceed in renovating and adding new space.

There are many issues that surround the Student Union, namely, how do we finance this project while minimizing the actual cost to the student. Like many students, I am concerned about the rising cost of education and work day in and day out on new ways to financially support students. When I took on this enormous project, my main objective was two-fold: (1) How do we proceed with this project as soon as possible so that future student leaders do not have to deal with more problems than currently on the table, and (2) How do we build this building without financially hurting individual students?

We have an obligation to understand the financial mechanisms of the University. When students yell about how the University should pay for this building, I encourage them to stop and think about that semesterly tuition each of us pays. We already fund the University through tuition and all the money we dole out for other goods and services. This means, simply, that the Student Union will be funded by each of us either way because we are the University. We cannot separate ourselves from the University because we fund this entire operation. I do not want to confuse anyone, but the University receives additional dollars to operate apart from tuition. This money comes in the form of grants, designated research dollars, state appropriations that are used to fund specific programs and donations of all forms. Most of these resources are restricted and cannot be used for other purposes, i.e., the Student Union project.

I have always been an advocate for a major fund-raising campaign to offset the student contribution. What former administrators and former student leaders didn't do in terms of organizing a fundraising effort, I will do. However, it will take several years to generate even a few million dollars and by then the cost of the project will have risen and the students will be in the same situation as we are now. This project can not happen without some sort of student support, either willingly (a fee) or unwillingly (tuition).

Through the process of tuition, students will not have a say as to where their tuition increase goes and will not have more money for increased student services and programs. Additionally, the project could be scaled back and we will undergo several years of construction to only do this thing half-way. A student generated fee will allow students to control and oversee the entire project. We currently have this system with the Student Recreation Center and the student fee board that is in place.

With the research that I have done, the student's desire to have a new building, and the urgentness of getting a safe building; I feel a fee is best. I say this with some reservations. Namely, I wish we could get this new building for free, I hate to support any increases because it hurts my pocketbook, and finally, I know that some students will not support what I have just said. My job, though, is to present to you the best plan that has been negotiated, debated, tested and challenged. I have worked on this for several years and I do not support this proposal because I didn't do my homework. I have done my homework and am asking students across this campus to support this project because it is our responsibility to get this project done. If administrators years ago would have only kept up with the maintenance of the building, we could have done what NAU and ASU did, which entailed some major renovations but not at the high cost we are faced with now. Our situation is different and we, the students, should be the bigger participant and get this thing done and done right. We cannot wait nor expect future students to pay for what we failed to do.

This issue is one of many that I am working on this year as president. However, this issue affects all of us and I have spent considerable time dealing with it. If any student has a solution that is realistic and knows of a better approach, please let me know and we will address it and try to implement it. This whole project has been organized by students, not the administration as some have said, and this whole project will continue on by students. Let's show the administration that we care and want action on this project, let's not complain and blame others for our current situation. My position exists to represent and fight for our needs as students. Please help me in this endeavor.

Gilbert Davidson is president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona. He is a public management senior.

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