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Pricey recreation center plan splits San Francisco State students
The student paper headline read, "Debate Already Closed." But elsewhere on the San Francisco State University campus, the debate was just beginning, about a proposed $93 million recreation center whose bottom line seems to loom over the conversation about deep curriculum cutbacks this fall.
Students gathered Thursday in the Cesar Chavez student center for a teach-in organized by the Coalition Against the Rec Center, a group of students opposing the construction of a Recreation and Wellness Center. But the proposal has divided opinion on campus, with the president of the largest student group, which strongly backs the plan, declaring, “The project will never die.”
Organizer Sam Brown-Vasquez, who presented an informational slideshow, said school administrators and allies among some other student groups had skewed priorities. This year state cuts to California State University campuses have canceled classes, restricted enrollment and caused administrators to boost student fees.
"Are they advocating for us during this economic crisis?" he asked.
Brown-Vasquez said the fees themselves are not enormous. The recreation center’s construction would add $35 per semester to student fees next year, increasing to $160 per semester by 2015.
But he argued that since fees have already increased 32 percent from last school year, additional fees place an unnecessary burden on students already struggling to pay for school.
The students at the teach-in complained that the official student-run organizations aren't accountable to wider student opinion. Associated Students, which represents student clubs, backs the recreation center. The Coalition Against the Rec Center is demanding a campus-wide vote on the issue, rather than a student petition -- despite arguments from Associated Students that not enough students vote.
Brown-Vasquez also expressed opposition to what he described as a student-fee-financed ad campaign for the center.
Jasmine Vassar, a student and volunteer with the school’s Women's Center, said Associated Students members went to her offices distributing posters promoting the center.
But after the slideshow and speakers, Associated Students members echoed the statements of the group's president, Natalie Franklin, in a recent article in the student paper, the X-Press. Franklin said the project was necessary for the college's growth.
"It's in the general plan," said Allison Schentrub, a member of Eco Students. "It's going to happen no matter what. What we should be doing is not protesting a rec center, but maybe questioning when it is built."
Schentrub acknowledged that the center’s opponents were right to demand accountability.
"There should have been a student voice in the beginning," she said, adding that she too was critical of how Associated Students spent money to conduct the survey and promote the plan. But she was undeterred about the development itself: "From a facilities perspective, there is a need for a rec center."