Following last week's student body general elections, 1,875 students voted in support of the BeAM Student Fee Referendum — passing the 1,495 votes cast against it.
Though most students voted in favor of the referendum, the decision is still pending final approval from the Board of Governors in March.
The proposal would amend the student constitution to create a BeAM advisory board similar to that of Campus Health, Campus Recreation and other departments that receive student fee money. The advisory board created would also be charged with finding outside funding for the Makerspaces.
Last semester, members of the BeAM Makerspace approached Ryan Collins, co-chairperson of the Student Fee Audit Committee, to receive more funding for its operations. Until now, BeAM has been funded by grants and discretionary money given to the program at its inception by former Chancellor Carol Folt.
Collins, the Graduate and Professional Student Federation treasurer, said he is working with Undergraduate Student Body Treasurer Carter Vilim and Bobby Kunstman, director of student life and leadership for the Carolina Union, to create the BeAM advisory board.
“We really worked with the administration to persuade them that this was something that students should have a voice in because this was a new fee and it was a qualitatively different fee from any kind that they were being asked to pay before,” Collins said.
The committee did not feel that it was sufficiently representative of the student body, Collins said, and chose instead to put the decision before the public.
The referendum was an opportunity for student voices to be heard, Vilim said.
“Seeing as this was a department posing a student activity fee, SFAC felt that the best way to legitimize the fee if it were to be approved was through a referendum to get as much of the student voice as we could,” Vilim said.
First-year Abbygail Harrison, majoring in English and comparative literature, said she first heard about the referendum through a friend who has worked at the Makerspace for the past three years.
“They were really worried about their job because they work there through work-study,” Harrison said.
Harrison said if the referendum had not passed and BeAM could not raise enough money to keep the program afloat, her friend would have had to find another way to pay for college.
Collins said he expects the BOG to approve the referendum, which would create a $17 annual feestarting next fall for all undergraduate, graduate and professional students. The fee will keep the Makerspaces free for academic and personal use by all students, regardless of major.
The alternative funding option that BeAM considered was a subscription-based model used by the University of California-Los Angeles, Collins said. If UNC were to adopt that model, students would pay each time they used a Makerspace.
There are four Makerspace locations on campus — Murray Hall, Hanes Art Center, Kenan Science Library and Carmichael Residence Hall — which provide the resources for students to use technologies like 3D printers, sewing machines and laser cutters.
There are only a few other universities with comparable programs on their campuses, but Collins said he expects to see this relatively new initiative spread to more universities in the coming years.
“For me, personally, the Makerspace was very helpful for classes and connecting with other people, and as a learning resource,” Harrison said. “It provides a more inclusive environment because people inside and outside the classroom can work together collaboratively.”
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