New university center wins student vote with a landslide

After four days of voting, students approved the referendum that will allow for the funding of a new University Center by a vote of 84.5 percent to 15.5 percent, according to the official tally.

On Friday, the Student Center Referendum Committee gathered at the Rathskeller to learn the official results of the polling and to discuss the future of the University Center project in light of these results.

The referendum will require that students pay an additional $150 per semester beginning in the fall of 2009. Half of the project’s funding would come from this added fee, with the remaining balance to be provided by additional fundraising.

The referendum will also provide undergraduate, graduate and law students on the Coral Gables campus priority regarding the use of the new UC’s facilities and calls for the establishment of a Student Center Advisory Board to propose and institute policies for use of the new building.

According to the committee, student referendums are commonly used in college campuses across the country and many are considered successful if they receive 55 to 65 percent of the vote. The committee sees UM’s 85 percent affirmative vote as a clear indicator of what the students desire for the campus.

“Personally, I think that people who originally wanted to vote ‘No’ on the project thought that they were voting on just a fee,” Student Government President Pete Maki said, “but when they asked questions about the project, they realized that it’s more than just a fee-it’s about student control of the new building, and I think that’s why many of them changed their vote to support the referendum.”

A total of 1,415 votes was counted after the polls were closed. At the time they met, the committee members were not yet clear on the exact number of eligible voters there were on campus. In spite of this, representatives said that the voter turnout for the referendum vote was consistent with the usual turnout.

“There are always students that choose not to vote because they think ‘[the voting results] aren’t going to affect me one way or another’,” said Richard Walker, assistant vice president for student affairs.

Consistent with the poll results, a majority of students said that the building of a new UC would be beneficial to the university.

“I think a lot of schools have nicer university centers and I think UM is ready [for a new UC] given the progress it’s made with the Momentum campaign,” Magda Abdel Fattah, sophomore, said.

Ritchie Lucas, a committee member, UM alumnus from the class of 1982 and former editor of The Hurricane, stated that the approval of the referendum went beyond just improving the university’s facilities.

“As an alumnus who has been 20 years removed [from UM], it’s nice to see that the next generation of students has chosen to leave something behind [for the future],” he said.

Before the referendum was proposed to the general student body for voting it was tested in the Student Government Senate to get an idea of the amount of student support it would receive.

Elsa Bolt, the School of Communication senator, said that the referendum was passed by a majority vote in the Senate as well. In response to the number of students that voted against the referendum, Bolt was of the opinion that many who voted “No” on the project were not fully aware of what their vote would imply.

“Even if [the majority] voted ‘No’ on the referendum, it would most likely be built anyway only it would be at a higher cost for students and they would not have less control of the building,” Bolt said.

Now that the referendum has been accepted by the student vote, the next step for the Student Center Referendum Committee is to gain approval from the university and the Board of Trustees to enter into the design phase of the project. The committee plans to propose the money pledged from the referendum as collateral to begin construction on the new UC, but maintains that there is still money left to raise.

Marina Nazir can be contacted at