Students voted against imposing a $6 to $9 per-credit-hour fee on themselves to help fund an on-campus stadium in Student Government’s (SG) midterm elections earlier this month.
Of the 1,753 students who voted, 815 did not support the fee, 668 did and 271 did not have a preference.
It is those that remain neutral, however, that could swing the majority in favor of the fee, according to the chair of the On-Campus Stadium Task Force, Sen. Yousef Afifi.
Afifi is considering the no-preference voters to be added to those in favor, which brings the level of support of the student fee to 54 percent.
“I am not trying to spin this into some positive way to make it seem like more people are for it than they are against it, I am just taking data and the interpretation of the data to mean exactly what it is,” Afifi said.
Afifi said that SG did not expect to have that many people vote no preference, especially because of the nature of the referendum.
“There were some things that we did not expect,” Afifi said. “The main one being was the percentage of people responded saying that they have no preference. I assume that because this is a monumental issue, something that is enticing and may even be controversial, we did not expect that many people to say that they have no preference.”
According to Danielle McDonald, the dean of Student Affairs and Student Success, SG does not have the power to simply impose a fee. Instead, the next step would be to lobby the Board of Trustees (BOT) and beyond, should they choose to do so.
“No, they can’t just create a fee, but they have to determine if they are going to move forward with lobbying,” McDonald said. “They are quite aware that they cannot just create a fee, they do not have that power, the university doesn’t even have that power, so they are trying to figure out, based on student interest, if they should continue to pursue it.”
For the implementation or increase of any fee, the first step would be to petition the BOT, then to the Board of Governors (BOG) and, finally, the governor of Florida.
McDonald said that because current Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been opposed to any addition to or increase in student fees, it has been a challenge to get such changes implemented.
“The governor has been very clear on this, that it needs to be based on student need and that he does not want to add more debt to students, so that is why we have not been able to increase fees in the past few years,” McDonald said. “As a university, we also don’t want to increase debt on our students, especially if it is not necessary to do that.”
McDonald said that some of the initiatives for an increase in student fees have been centered around accommodating the on-campus health and wellness facilities, which have been experiencing an exponential growth in demand.
Such changes have not come about, however, because of Scott’s direct opposition and the university is waiting to see what Florida’s next governor’s stance will be on the issue.
McDonald also emphasized that no matter the result of the student stadium fee vote, referendums are not legally binding to the university and as such, it is not forced to take any sort of action.
She also added that the primary focus of the university right now, when it comes to construction, is the new indoor athletic center, which is projected to cost $40 million.
McDonald said that she is not personally in favor, or opposed, to the idea of an on-campus stadium.
“I have worked on campuses where there are stadiums on campus and I went to school where the stadium was not on campus and I think that there are pros and cons to it,” said McDonald, who got her undergraduate degree from the University of Miami.
“It can definitely help impact student engagement and participation in athletics, but it can also be distracting to other things on campus as well. I do not have a real opinion one way or the other. I have worked in both structures and have seen that both structures can have great student engagement.”
Afifi added that the potential student fee is not the only source in discussion to generate funding for the stadium, though, no “alternative” is solidified.
He also said that a lack of knowledge among voters about the planned amenities that the stadium has may have also played a factor in the underwhelming amount who voted in favor. Afifi said he thinks that is a result of a lack of marketing, which is something he and members of SG plan to address moving forward.
“I think marketing could have been a little bit better, though I will give credit to the marketing team and anyone who participated in spreading the word of this … but, as far as my end, I could have done a better job as far as ensuring that this was marketed in a more timely manner,” Afifi said. “I will take responsibility for that.”
According to Afifi, the voting-system structure may have also played a role in the way students voted. He said that by candidates running for SG and the referendums being listed on a singular ballot and voters having to click back and forth between sections, he thinks many voters may have missed the referendum being listed on the ballot to begin with.
Afifi said that the idea of a football stadium being built on campus may be closer than most people think.
“I do not think we are 10 years away from having a football stadium, we are more like four or five years away if the proper methods are employed and steps are taken,” Afifi said. “Obviously that five years is not set in stone, it could obviously fluctuate, but I think we are more toward that line of the duration than we are in the double-digit number of years side of the spectrum.”