The priorities of the Board of Trustees are mixed up in its continued effort to create a student union.
Instead of being an advocate for the renovation and expansion of the decrepit Ronan Hall, board Chairwoman Melanie Foster is pushing for a student union.
It’s a serious mistake. A student union is not necessary for students to achieve academic success at CMU. Students don’t need a student union in which to study. They have the Charles V. Park Library.
Improvements to Ronan Hall are necessary, however. It is an old building that has exceeded the capacity of its programs and is in need of new technology and modernization.
The importance of Ronan Hall becomes more significant when one considers how crucial the College of Education and Human Services is to CMU. The department of teacher education and professional development and the department of education administration and community leadership — both of which are housed in Ronan — lure many students to the university.
Foster and the other members of the board could argue the money for the student union that comes from the $37.50 campus improvement fee shouldn’t be squandered on a building that only would benefit education students. But a building for recreation should not have priority over an academic building. And an educational building would improve the campus, too, thereby making the fee worthy of funding its construction.
The issue of Ronan Hall aside, a student union won’t be as neat of a project as CMU trustees would have students, alumni and community members believe. If the board can manage to fund the construction of the student union and make it operational without spending beyond the pool of money created by the campus improvement fee, we’ll be impressed.
Problems are bound to arise in the construction of the student union — especially if university officials want to build a new building. For example, an urgent problem exists in CMU’s Central Energy Facility, which is reaching its maximum cooling capacity. The plant, located on East Campus Drive, is responsible for the heating, cooling and electrical needs on campus. If CMU officials want to add a new building, they will have to expand its centralized chilled water cooling system. This will cost the university.
Still, Foster says that now would be a good time to contract for a student union. “It is a real buyer’s market out there now, and construction companies are looking for big projects,” she says.
But CMU is in the poorhouse. If Gov. Jennifer Granholm and the Legislature agree on a 6 percent cut for higher education, the university will face structural budget deficit of about $17 million.
Call us naysayers, but the near future does not seem like a good time for a student union, given the likelihood that the financial situation of the state (and CMU) isn’t going to improve soon. How can the university complain about its finances to the Legislature when workers are erecting a new building?
We hope that Foster’s push for a student union in the near future isn’t motivated by her expiring term on the board in December 2004. Foster wants the drawings of the student union done by next fall.
The plan for a student union is not without merit. But trustees’ priorities and timing are way off base on the issue.