The Student Wellness, Counseling, Health, and Career Referendum passed through ASUCI Senate with 14 votes last Thursday. The referendum, which graduate and undergraduate students will vote on in the 2017 spring elections if passed through Associated Graduate Students, would levy a $66 per quarter student fee to fund the creation a Student Wellness, Counseling, Health, and Career Center building.
Supporters of the referendum argued that the building will solve several problems at once. It would expand the amount of space available to vital student services and allow them to serve more students who require the services. It would also gather many student services into one prominent building on campus, allowing students to find services more easily.
Graduate Student Becky Grady, a PhD candidate in Social Psychology, spoke in favor of the referendum resolution in a public comment at Thursday’s Senate meeting.
“I think this building is something we really need as students and it’s really unfortunate students are being asked to pay for it,” said Grady. “I’m not at all saying that’s an ideal solution, but after meeting for many months with administrators about this, this is the way that this building needs to be done because of budget cuts from the state and changes in the legislature over funding non-academic buildings.”
“Last year in AGS we ran our survey of graduate students about some of their concerns and we consistently and overwhelmingly get concerns about wait times and access to resources at these services.”
Students voted against a similar referendum last spring, which many attributed to the cost. Administration is pushing for the new referendum in light of expanding student populations. According to ASUCI President Tracy La, current service structures were built years ago when the student population was far less than it is now. Currently, just over 34,000 students are enrolled at UC Irvine and administration’s strategic plan aims for 40,000 students by 2030.
The building’s construction is complicated by the lack of space on campus for construction. The building would be built over Parking Lot 2 near the flagpoles, removing parking on campus. However, the building will also free about 40,000 square feet on campus for housing, counseling and career services, among other resources. Space would then be freed for other uses in the current spaces those services occupy.
Students would be expected to pay about $50 million in student fees for the building. While the referendum language last spring would have levied a $57 student fee per quarter amongst students, the current referendum levies a $66 student fee per quarter.
If passed, the fee would be enacted after the building is built, open and providing services, likely sometime between 2020 and 2022. The fee is expected to be levied for about thirty years until 2050, after which time it will be lowered to an estimated $25 per student, per quarter in order to pay for maintenance and operations. After that, the fee will be adjusted based on the California Consumer Price Index.
The new building is estimated to cost $75 million, $24.5 million of which will be paid for by UCI administration. Administration had not committed funds to prior health center projects, but decided to contribute these funds as a sign of commitment to the project and to reduce cost to students.
Student government and administration had hoped that a private donor could be found to contribute $25 million for the center to reduce costs to students, but supporters of the building no longer want to wait for a donor while students are in need of mental health service expansion. Administration also stated that the State of California was unlikely to to fund infrastructural development at any UC Campus.
According to ASUCI President Tracy La, students will maintain some degree of control over the buildings through two advisory boards. Per the school’s Policy for Student Fee Funded Facilities, a Facility Advisory Board will be created to include a majority of students, approved by both ASUCI and Associated Graduate Students, and will aso include the Director of the Facility as a non-voting ex-officio member. ASUCI and AGS will also appoint students to an Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee for Vacated Spaces, which will advise the Vice Chancellor on how to better utilize the vacated student service spaces.
The legislation was authored by Social Sciences Senator Grecia Orozco and seconded by ASUCI President Tracy La, who spoke in support of the referendum at the meeting. They stated that students should decide whether or not to pass it through a vote themselves. They also argued that the referendum would be the best method to enhance student services available at the moment.
“I know that many students have voiced to me how vital these services are to their mental health, to their physical health and to how successful they are at UCI,” Orozco said.
In order to pass the referendum, there must be at least a 20 percent turnout of the undergraduate and graduate population, and 60 percent of voters must vote yes on the referendum.
La stated that she and several of her friends have used many of the services that the new building would provide, and that the issues with those services affect a large amount of students.
“I believe that after a year, almost two years of dealing with these issues that this is the best way to go and I’m hoping to have your support to allow the student body to vote on something like this,” La said. “You’d be making an incredible contribution to this campus and [you should] know students in the future will appreciate this.”