Opinion: Facilities fee unnecessary

Hopefully it is well known by now of the plans by our Downtown student government to implement a $75 per semester facilities fee to be charged to all students during the next academic year. For those unaware, ASASUD President Tania Mendes is lobbying for a new student fee to “support the construction of facilities to include a new/expanded recreation center, student center, and student union space,” according to Mendes’ written proposal.

Considering the significant growth of the Downtown campus over the last several years, a plan to expand the campus to provide additional services to the students seems a plausible and necessary initiative.

However, such a fee is an unnecessary financial burden to impose upon students and one that is coming at the wrong time. Furthermore, it is my firm belief that it is, by design, a bad practice to approve a fee for plans that have not yet been finalized or even fully conceptualized.

The facilities fee calls for charging all ASU students on all campuses $75 a semester in order to provide additional recreation and student space on the Polytechnic, West and Downtown campuses. The money will essentially all go into one big pot from which the aforementioned campuses will draw from in order to improve facilities or construct new ones. This method is coming at the expense of Tempe students, which may further the adversarial relationship between Tempe and the other campuses. The planned fee also stipulates no guarantee for any campus — Downtown or otherwise — of what percentage of the money they will receive.

The plans for creating this additional space — from structure, location and purpose — are vague and as of now undetermined. No blueprints exist and there has been no specific delineation of how the fee money will be utilized. I do not support asking students to pay for something that is, as of now, merely an idea. Mendes suggests there is space adjacent to the YMCA that we can utilize for the said purposes of the facilities fee, but as of yet it is unclear what terms, if any, the YMCA has agreed upon.

Consequentially, it is important to note the Downtown campus exists because of the city of Phoenix and thrives today because of its partnerships with community organizations such as the YMCA. ASU believes in community impact and immersion and nowhere is this more evident and essential than on the Downtown campus. We have a partnership with the YMCA that allows us to use their space and equipment for free and with much more convenience and regularity than what the Student Recreation Center provides to Tempe students. The YMCA has thus far been able to meet the demands of both ASU students and the Phoenix community while simultaneously hosting successful and well-attended intramural sports activities. Because of these reasons, additional recreation space is an unnecessary desire considering the current economic climate of the university.

Mendes has also stated that we need more space to meet the demands of a growing student body that is strained by the lack of campus student space. This claim appears to be presumptuous, however, when one considers that we have a new and well-furbished student center located down the street on the second floor of the Arizona Center. Students frequent the Arizona Center but do not utilize the student space for recreation or organizational meetings. I believe this is because the Downtown campus has an exceptional amount of useful and varied student space, including but not limited to the First Amendment Forum, several empty classrooms, offices and conference rooms in University Center, the Civic Space Park and the new Health Care Innovation building. Our campus is uniquely and inwardly designed in such a way that it provides exceptional student space in convenient and accessible locations. It would seem then that there is a lack of demand for the student space that has been proposed by Mendes, rather than a lack of sufficient space to meet the demands of the students.

At some point, we need to recognize that we are predominantly a commuter school. Most official estimates from university planners and President Michael Crow number the Downtown student populace in a range from eight to 10 thousand students. However, a very small percentage of students live on campus (around 800), and fewer live close enough to take advantage of student space or recreational centers. Such a proposed fee will — from what has been expressed thus far — be charged to commuter students unable adequately benefit from such facilities.

Is it reasonable to ask 90 percent of Downtown students to pay for something that will only serve the 10 percent who live on campus? Why not first invest in additional residential housing so that more students can live on campus and thereby take advantage of the resources the campus offers? Right now, there simply are not enough students living on campus to warrant building a recreation center or adding new student space.

The timing of this proposal is also alarming. It is true that for our Downtown campus to expand and prosper to its fullest potential, we will need additional space. We need to focus on the right kind of space, however, such as residential housing — and at a time when students are most able to afford it.

It is no secret that the university is struggling through a financial shortfall that has resulted in increased tuition and recovery surcharges. As Crow announced just weeks ago, however, the struggles are likely to continue for several years, and the recovery surcharge will remain a feature of our tuition payments. There has been much debate about ASU providing its students with an education that is “nearly free” and student government has taken an active role in trying to keep our costs down. Doesn’t a facilities fee of $75 a semester for space and purposes that are superfluous, rather than essential, conflict with student government’s promise to advocate for the students to lower the cost of attendance?

It is not student government’s decision to decide how students’ money should be used. We are to represent the concerns of our students, which, first and foremost, are educational quality and affordability. Currently, the Downtown campus does not need — and would not fully utilize — additional student and recreation space.

Volz is an ASASUD senator for Barrett, the Honors College.

Contact the senator at dustin.volz@asu.edu