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Lamar students will vote on whether to OK tuition fee to help reinstate football program
BEAUMONT - At first glance, the southwest corner of the Setzer Student Center looks altogether ordinary.
Lined with heavy plastic tables and fuzzy, red furniture, it is generally an area for tired frat boys to catch catnaps, or maybe for stressed-out engineering majors to cram for their next tests.
It is here, though, that the rebirth of football at Lamar University could begin.
Today and Wednesday, the tables and chairs will vanish, and this section of the Setzer Center will serve as one of four polling places. There, students will vote on whether to approve a new tuition fee.
For the LU athletics department, the stakes could not be higher.
If the referendum passes, Lamar will clear its first major hurdle toward putting a football team in Cardinal Stadium for the first time since 1989.
If not, football is as dead as it’s been for the past 19 years.
“I’m not in the predicting business,” said Barry Johnson, vice president for student affairs. “I know I want it to pass, but who knows?”
The vote will happen in several places and at several times today and Wednesday:
# from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., inside the Setzer Center and outside the science auditorium;
# from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., in front of the dining hall; and
# from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., in front of the Gray Library.
Students will cast their votes and drop the ballots in a lockbox, and at the end of each session, the lockboxes will go to the on-campus police station. There they will sit, until Thursday morning, when the ballots will go to the computing center inside the engineering building.
There, the ballots will run through a scanner, one by one.
“These scanners have the ability to check the student number on the ballot and verify that it’s a registered student,” Johnson said. “If it’s a bad number, they’ll throw it out.”
After the scanner is finished, a computer will fire off a printout with the results.
Johnson will then present those results to university president Jimmy Simmons.
To this point, almost everyone on campus seems to think the referendum will pass with relative ease. But no one knows for sure how the vote will turn out.
Last Thursday afternoon, at the Student Government Association’s cubby hole on the top floor of the Setzer Center, president Obi Arisukwu ambled back and forth from computers to copy machines, finalizing flyers and announcements for the referendum.
Now a senior, Arisukwu said students have casually discussed the possibility of football at Lamar since his freshman year in 2004.
“It seems like the timing was finally right for it,” Arisukwu said.
Simmons, elevated to his current post in 1999, said a day rarely went by when someone didn’t ask him about “The F-word,” as many have put it.
Finally, last Tuesday, Simmons - a football proponent - attended last week’s SGA meeting to address any questions students had about the fee.
At the meeting, Simmons said the university wanted to make other improvements before it even considered football.
Now, armed with a new recreation center, a new dining hall and a new phase to Cardinal Village, the university can trumpet its enhancements to student life.
Football, Arisukwu said, is the next logical step.
“When we dropped the program, we lost 600 students that first year. Within six years we lost 2,200,” Simmons said. “Football might not have been the only reason. But the fact is, a lot of our young people chose to go to other universities.”
Aaron Townsend, a 20-year-old freshman, did not say whether he will vote yes or no. But he did voice some concerns last week.
“People have been acting like everyone wants a football team,” Townsend said. “I’m not sure about that. But I also haven’t seen a big campaign or anything against football, either.”
Among Townsend’s concerns:
# That football, while separate from the academic side, would “bog down” resources and keep the university from making progress elsewhere on campus.
# That he would have liked to see a study that backed up Simmons’ new enrollment estimate (Simmons said with football, Lamar could see an increase of up to 2,000 new students, thereby increasing the amount of money sent to Lamar by the state).
# That money from the athletics fee would go toward “functional stuff” - making Cardinal Stadium more fan-friendly, rather than making it “look pretty.”
There is also the issue of cost.
The fee will cost $8.75 per semester credit-hour. In other words, for students taking 12 credit-hours, the new fee would amount to $105.
“Students have concerns about the cost, because the cost of education is rising. And that’s fair,” said Tony Sarda, vice president of the SGA. “But I also think that at the end of it, people here at Lamar want something to rally around.”
Simmons was quick to note that among public universities in Texas, Lamar is still among the cheapest.
As of today, in a state where football is seemingly so important, Lamar is one of the few schools without it.
That brings us back to today and Wednesday, and to an ordinary corner of the Setzer Center.
A vote is coming.