The Bottom Line Editorial Board 2017-2018
This year’s Associated Students election will present UCSB students with a rare opportunity to dramatically increase student fees which future generations of students will have to pay. A plan to renovate the UCen, which A.S. President Hieu Le put forward in the fall, has sputtered along from its introduction at the UCen Governance Board on Oct. 16 to its current, poorly updated version. The current version will appear on the ballot for this year’s election.
By publishing fair news stories and opinion pieces both in favor of and against the renovation, The Bottom Line has attempted to objectively cover the renovation ballot initiative. However, because of the project’s high cost and lack of practical value to students, The Bottom Line’s editorial board urges students to vote against the renovation during A.S. elections over April 23-26.
Most importantly, the UCen renovation’s high estimated costs do not justify the proposed improvements. The current estimate is that the project will cost $48 million, which will be funded by a combination of student fees and donations. According to the official language of the current plan, future students are supposed to pay $21.40 per quarter from fall 2018 to the end of construction in 2022. Afterward, they would pay up to $96.06 per quarter until the debt is paid off in 2052.
Students are still paying for the last UCen expansion from 1994; there are three existing UCen-related fees that undergraduates pay for as part of their student fees: the University Center fee ($7.13 per quarter), the UCen Expansion Fee ($20.02 per quarter), and the University Center Fee ($15.00 per quarter).
If students continue to pay those fees as well as fund the potential UCen renovation initiative, they would have to pay up to $141.76 per quarter at the payment plan’s peak. It is unclear whether current UCen-related fees will still be in effect next year. It is also unclear as of press time whether graduate students, who also use the university center, are expected to pay into this program as well.
Previously, Le said that the university staff who run fundraising efforts on campus expect to raise “$10 to $20 million in outside money based on their experience with other campus projects.” Le also projected that for every $400,000 in donations, students can expect to pay $1.50 less from the proposed numbers. Unless that money is already in the university’s clutches, it’s unreasonable to count on it.
Le and his proponents may argue the proposed fee increases are a drop in the bucket compared to ever-rising tuition hikes, but they would represent 3.5 and 15.8 percent increases, respectively, in student fees from what UCSB students pay now. Undergraduates on campus already pay large student fees every year: up to $606.90 per quarter, which equates to approximately $1,820 per year.
In fact, there is strong evidence that students prioritize other issues much more highly. A survey published in the 2014 A.S. Strategic Plan found that only 14.8 percent of students agreed the UCen needed improvements or additions. The proposal was the 12th-highest priority among options for A.S. to work on over the next several years.
That number would have been even lower if not for the large number of surveyed students involved in A.S., who preferred improving the UCen more than their non-A.S. peers did. Almost 37 percent of students surveyed in 2014 who were involved in A.S. favored improvements to the UCen, making it the third highest priority among students in A.S.
Renovating the UCen is thus more of a giveaway to students involved in Associated Students than a project that will benefit the entire UCSB student body. It appears that public opinion has not changed since 2014, given the outcry on UCSB’s Free & For Sale Facebook group and subreddit.
the UCen renovation’s high estimated costs do not justify the proposed improvements.
Historically, renovation and expansion projects take a long time to finish. On UCSB’s campus alone, there have been delays in the remodelling of El Centro, according to our previous reporting on the building. Although the building was originally slated to be completed in July, El Centro did not formally re-open until this past week.
Unfortunately, the plan to renovate the UCen, which is already ludicrously expensive, has no contingency options prepared if construction takes longer or if the overall process is more expensive than planned. Students would almost certainly be on the hook if costs run wild or if fundraising falls short of expectations. Regardless of how efficiently construction is completed, the university would also have to take into account time spent relocating staff and features currently in the UCen that are vital to the school’s functions.
The current plan is both pricey and unwanted by many, and it also offers few new resources necessary or practical for student life. Between the proposed demonstration kitchen and wellness area, large and expensive proponents of the UCen renovation initiative are pushing to appeal to people who want a student union that is on par with gleaming game rooms, bowling alleys, and pop-up dining rooms. A university without such frivolous facilities will not limit students from achieving a world-class education.
Some proponents of the UCen renovation say the expansion will allow more space for existing services on campus, such as CAPS and the A.S. Food Bank. While a new UCen may have space for those entities to offer more services, a generation of students will pass through the university before the UCen will be able to meet anyone’s needs. Furthermore, as of press time, some entities have not yet fully utilized the space they already have.
For example, the A.S. Food Bank expressed interest in refrigeration in its recently renovated space almost a year and a half ago, but it has not yet installed any refrigerators for unknown reasons. In addition, acting co-director of CAPS Turi Honegger previously stated in an interview with TBL that additional space and staff for CAPS’ main location, rather than in the UCen, would best benefit CAPS. There are already five counseling locations for students besides the primary office; adding a sixth location would likely add little value.
As many students have pointed out, the question of whether fixing up the UCen is a more worthy use of fees than providing more classrooms and dedicated study spaces is also up for debate. The proposed University Center, in all of its modern architectural glory, would be another example of the investments made in swanky amenities on campus rather than in academic experiences.
It’s not that we love the UCen just the way it is. Several of the concerns brought up at the April 12 UCen Town Hall are valid, including the pipe smell, need for more communal spaces on campus, and expansion of current student services. However, the “Our NewCen” proposal on the spring 2018 ballot is geared towards promoting shiny new facilities at exorbitant cost, at the same time offering no services students genuinely need that cannot be provided at a cheaper cost with less interruption to student life elsewhere.