Passage of referendum called a ‘game changer’
Students flocked to the polls in record numbers Tuesday and Wednesday to vote in the student service fee referendum. They cast their votes for or against the increase in student fees by $45 a semester for the construction and renovation of athletic facilities.
Of the 9,923 votes cast, 7,334 were in favor. According to Vice President for Student Affairs Richard Walker, the 26.1 percent student turnout is the largest in the history of UH, beating the previous highest turnout of 15 percent for the UH Campus Recreation and Wellness Center student referendum in 1998. He said the high turnout is tied to the general momentum of the University, both academically and athletically.
“If you really track the notoriety the University has gotten on the national stage, and even on the international stage in the last year, it has just been tremendous,” Walker said.
“People are really taking a serious look at the University of Houston.”
Jared Gogets, Student Government Association senator-at-large, said he was impressed, but not surprised by the high student turnout.
“Try to tell somebody that you guys don’t care about UH now because you went out there and you showed that you care about moving us forward, you care about Tier One and you care about the athletics program,” said Gogets, who also serves as the president of Student Program Board, after the results of the referendum were announced on Thursday.
“I see athletics facilities as the front porch of the University. It puts the University on a national stage,” Gogets said. “Right now, we’re on the regional stage.”
Athletics Director Mack Rhoades said the passage of the referendum was a game changer for the athletics program and will help increase the national visibility of the University.
“Fifteen years from now, 20 years from now, we are going to look back at this day and say that was a significant moment in the turning point of our intercollegiate athletics program,” Rhoades said.
“Bottom line, we want to be the best. We want to make sure that we have an athletics program that every one of our students can be proud of. That we can have national visibility, that we can win championships, compete nationally, but do it the right way.”
Walker said UH desperately needed to upgrade its athletic facilities now that it is moving into the Big East, and the passage of the referendum ties strategically to that move. He said the conference move coupled with the construction of the new stadium will help bring more students to UH.
“We’re becoming very competitive with other institutions. We’re one of the places people are seriously looking at now as an institution of choice,” Walker said. “Students really want to come here, and I think that is all a part of that momentum.”
Walker said the rise of the University’s reputation and its general momentum is going to allow the University to increase its fundraising efforts.
“Clearly you want to take advantage of the excitement of the University of Houston both locally and on the national scene,” Walker said. “That is a good indication that people want to give back to something that’s an exciting thing to be a part of.”
Walker also said it is important for Tier One institutions to have nationally competitive athletic programs.
“I think it’s all part of the package: Overall good academic programs, a good student life experience, a good campus experience, strong research, strong athletic programs,” Walker said. “To me it’s all part of the pieces that are put together to make a great Tier One institution.”