Positive for now, but the future is uncertain
It's a step.
It's a good first step.
But it's only a step.
When University of Arizona President Peter Likins said Monday he would not seek an immediate student fee to pay for much-needed Memorial Student Union renovations, he set a positive precedent after a controversy last fall that, at best, presented students with a tough question - and at worst, illustrated duplicitous sides of UA and student government officials.
For those who missed the fall fiasco, UA administrators and the Associated Students proposed that students pay a $40-per-semester fee in order to help fund the estimated $60 million in Union refurbishments. After much political wrangling among ASUA officials, campus activists and the student population at large, voters soundly defeated the fee idea in a Nov. 22 referendum.
Although he supported last year's $40-fee design, Likins' new rationale is to propose a student fee sometime after May 2001 - a levy that would be paid only by students who would benefit from the renovated building.
It is fortunate that behind-the-scenes discussions since the failed referendum have yielded an option that takes the onus of payments for a long-term project away from current students while leaving future Wildcats a choice as well.
Yet it is precisely that choice that is troubling. While it is too early to tell, Likins' actions may be opening an even larger can of worms than that of last year's $40 fee proposal.
What happens when Likins teams up with the ASUA president in 2001 and again pitches the fee idea - and students again turn it down?
"The renovations have been completed, why should we pay now?" future students might rationalize.
Although academic bonding, bookstore and food service revenues, and private donations like the UA-Pepsi contract appear to be viable funding sources, administrators would be hard-pressed for funding money if the aggregate remains insufficient.
Given this scenario, the readily apparent path that springs to mind is further tuition increases to make up the difference - essentially forcing upon students the same levy they voted down.
Although hypothetical, this scenario remains very real if Likins' build-now-pay-later Student Union policy persists.
One thing remains certain, the Memorial Student Union clearly needs renovations and someone, somehow, has got to pay for it.
President Likins should be lauded for his original thinking in this matter, but he should also be forewarned to keep his eyes on the horizon to avoid a rock-and-a-hard-place situation in the future.