Students at the University of North Texas voted to add for the first time ever a dedicated athletic fee to help fund a new football stadium and entertainment venue, according to referendum results released today by the Student Government Association.
The official results of this week's referendum, which was held Oct. 13-17, show that 2,829 (58.1 percent) students voted in favor of the athletic fee while 2,038 (41.9 percent) students voted against the fee. A total of 4,867 (13.9 percent of the student body) students voted in the election that also included races for SGA senators and the UNT Homecoming court.
"I believe the student's voice was heard and it shows that we care about the future of this university. We understand that this vote was not just about the stadium. It was about our university's future and our experience as students and alumni, because having a new stadium and entertainment venue will enhance our entire college experience," said Jeff Kline, student body president. "The students have made an investment in this university by voting yes; we now challenge the alumni of UNT to support their alma mater as well."
The new $10 per credit hour fee will cap at 15 semester credit hours and will not be implemented until the stadium is complete, which is expected to be in the fall of 2011.
Currently, the student body dedicates $3 per semester credit hour of the Student Service Fee to support athletics each semester. When the new athletic fee is implemented, the Student Service Fee will be reduced by $3, so no more than $105 of the $150 maximum athletic fee will be a new cost to students once the stadium opens.
"Our student body clearly supports continued expansion and improvement of UNT Athletics. They also understand that a strong athletics program is key to a vibrant alumni community and the continued growth of UNT's image," President Gretchen M. Bataille said. "This fee, which will help us build a new
stadium and entertainment venue, will ensure that our athletics program will be able to match the quality of our academic and research programs.
"I am committed to ensuring that UNT, like many of the nation's best research universities, strives to be excellent in everything we do," Bataille said. "Recently we've bolstered our research programs with a $25 million commitment, we're hiring additional senior-level faculty who have excellent records in teaching and research, and we're expanding our advising programs so that we can be sure to keep our students' experience among the best in Texas."
UNT Athletics Director Rick Villarreal thanked the students for their support. "Although I know there were students on both sides of this issue, I appreciate the support of those who have put us in a position to bring to fruition a project that I believe will have a positive impact on the entire university. Now that the students have given us their commitment, our momentum for raising donations and attracting corporate sponsorships will increase. We intend to continue moving this process along in the most expedient manner so everyone can enjoy a new facility as soon as possible."
A new stadium, which at UNT will be part of a larger sports and entertainment complex, can only be built with funds raised by private donors and student fees because Texas law does not allow state funds to be used for athletics construction. Texas law also says student fees can fund no more than 50 percent of the cost. UNT is committed to working with its alumni and friends to make its vision for the new stadium and entertainment venue a reality.
The new stadium will replace 56-year-old Fouts Field, where much of the infrastructure is outdated. Originally opened to accommodate 20,000 fans, Fouts Field is no longer a viable home for the North Texas football program and other events.
When Fouts Field opened in 1952, UNT had an enrollment of fewer than 5,000 students. Today UNT is one of the state's largest and best universities with an enrollment of 34,795 students. The new stadium will serve as a signature landmark to the campus.
UNT has built 10 new athletics facilities since 2002, including an Athletics Center and new venues for softball, tennis, soccer, swimming and volleyball, as well as a 7,000-square-foot academic center that is dedicated to helping student athletes succeed academically.
To move forward on constructing a new stadium, with a possible groundbreaking as early as summer 2009, President Bataille and UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson will advance the new fee recommendation to the UNT System Board of Regents for approval. Regents' approval would also provide permission for the university to seek approval from the Texas legislature to implement the fee. Legislative approval would make the fee part of state law that would be signed by the Governor at the end of the next legislative session in 2009. Regents' approval also would give the university permission to simultaneously seek approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to construct a new stadium.