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Students to vote on green energy fee referendum

On Nov. 2, University of West Florida students will vote on a proposal to add 25 cents to $1 per credit hour to student fees to fund sustainability projects on campus.

The non-binding referendum is intended to gauge student support for such a fee. Based on the results of the vote, the administration will decide whether to move forward.

So far, student support for the fee appears strong, despite a 15 percent tuition increase and a 20 percent reduction in Bright Futures scholarships funding this year. Out of 60 respondents to a poll on The Voyager page on Facebook, 40 said they would vote to support the fee.

There are also detractors, of course. At the Oct. 14 Student Government Association meeting, junior public relations major Philip Gamon addressed his concerns to the Senate. “I shouldn’t have to pay for the school to do what they should already be doing,” he said. “That’s another nickel and dime out of our pocket.”

“I place a high importance on environmental sustainability,” Gamon wrote in a later email. “That being said, I do not believe I should be forced into paying for environmental sustainability. I already pay building fees to this campus. If the campus would like to use that money and become more environmental friendly, go for it!”

Jacquie Ayala is the Florida organizer for the Southern Energy Network, the organization responsible for the Student Green Energy Fund project, of which the UWF proposal is a part.

She said that Gamon’s criticisms were common. “Unfortunately,” she wrote, “the reality is that administrators will rarely have enough money (or will power) they can allocate to do big, carbon-reducing, clean energy-implementing projects that we need to get our campuses off dirty energy.”

Josh Trimberger, a junior international studies major, said he was tired of being “nickeled and dimed to death.”

“I’m paying $1000 extra this semester over last semester for the same sub-par education,” he wrote. “If UWF wants money, how about they take it out of that extra $1000 they are getting from me this semester.”

Supporters of the proposal note that a student taking 12 credit hours per semester would be charged a maximum of $12 more per semester for the fee.

Trimberger disagreed with this assessment.“If you are paying UWF through student loans, then you are not simply paying them up to $12 a semester for this program,” he wrote. “You’re paying the interest that that $12 is going to accrue, as well.”

In his email, Gamon acknowledged that the cost of the fee was not prohibitive. “I come from a family where I can afford $24 per year,” he wrote, “but there are some students that work their way through college, and I do not think that adding a burden that can be done for free is the right move.”

Megan Keene, a junior pre-professional biology major, is one of the students Gamon worried about. She works two jobs, 40 to 60 hours each week.

“As a student less able to cope, I have learned the value of a dollar and the importance of a budget,” she wrote in an email. “ I may be a special case, but I think that it is important to do things to better the lives of people around you without expecting anything in return.”

“I can deal with a small raise in fees. I have already accepted the fact that tuition has been raised and my 100 percent Bright Futures scholarship isn’t really worth 100 percent of my tuition. We are already one step ahead of the world by being in college. Our futures are going to be ok when we leave here because we will have a higher education under our belts. So, what is $12 to $15 a semester going to do?”

Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Tammy McGuckin said that, if a clear majority of those who vote Wednesday support the fee, it will be voted on by the UWF Board of Trustees on Dec. 9. If the board approves the proposal, it would pass on to a vote by the state Board of Governors in February. If passed there, it would come back to the student body for a final, binding referendum and be implemented in fall 2012.

Once the fee was implemented, McGuckin said, the money would be allocated by a special committee consisting of an equal number of student and University representatives.

The fee would expire every three years, she said, so future classes would be able to decide whether to keep or abandon it.

The Student Environmental Action Society is advocating for passage of the fee. On Oct. 14, the SGA voted to remain neutral on the proposal.

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