17 groups will lose 2nd floor Coffman Union space

MSA and cultural centers are safe, but some smaller groups’ space will be cut.

by Sally Hunter

To create room for a shared space for all student groups, 17 small University of Minnesota student organizations will lose Coffman Union space, according to a recommendation approved by Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs.

A committee of student group members will start designing the floor plan for the unionâÄôs second floor group space this fall.

The 20 percent of the space going to âÄúmixed useâÄù will be used as a resource center for all registered student groups. The recommendation defines this space as âÄúmixed use, shared short-term office space, lounge and storage space.âÄù

Cultural groups will keep 68 percent of the space on the second floor, while student government and Commuter Connection will also have reserved space.

The new plan was approved by Rinehart on May 16 after a year of tracking and surveying student groupsâÄô use of their spaces.

The Student Unions and Activities Board of Governors determined that Students Today Leaders Forever, Student Emergency Loan Fund and the 15 groups in room 226 cubicles use their spaces the least and thus will lose their spots, said Joel Livingood, president of the Board.

After the Board conducted a survey of registered student groups, results showed mixed reviews in what students are looking for, Livingood said. Some donâÄôt need space in Coffman, such as greek groups, and others need only storage space.

There are more than 700 registered groups and only space for 29 of them on the second floor, he said. Livingood said the board is exploring the possibility of using the St. Paul Student Center to house the displaced groups.

In spring 2010, space allocation complaints arose when several groups complained to the Student Services Fees Committee after not receiving spots in Coffman.

In response, BOG reviewed how space on the second floor is used and has researched other universitiesâÄô use of space. It also held open forums for groups in order to find a solution to a problem that has upset many.

âÄúI was pleased with the process,âÄù Rinehart said, adding that people with different views were able to maintain respectful conversations.

Applications for the rest of the space have been frozen since December âÄî the Board wanted more time to figure out how to allocate the space.

A decades-old issue

In a letter to the Board, Rinehart noted that space has been an issue since Coffman opened in 1940.

Floor designs have varied since the building opened. In the 1940s and 1950s, the original design was hard-walled offices, said Maggie Towle, director of Student Unions and Activities. In the 1970s âÄúopen modulesâÄù were used, Towle said. The current design is a combination of the two: cultural centers, student government and a small number of other larger groups use hard-walled offices, and the rest is divided among smaller groups.

âÄúI think this is a really exciting new approach,âÄù Towle said, referring to the addition of mixed use space in the plan.

The open space idea is a âÄúmiddle of the road approach,âÄù Livingood said.

But the thought of shifting space in Coffman is upsetting to some groups.

âÄúThereâÄôs so many memories that are a part of our room,âÄù said Amy Kwok, outgoing president of the Asian-American Student Union. The group has a mural in their room that members donâÄôt want to lose if they move, she said.

âÄúI feel like [the change] is not a necessity,âÄù Kwok said, adding that people should focus on what Coffman has to offer rather than what it lacks.

Drew Horwood, director of campus relations for the Minnesota Student Association, said he likes the idea of open space for groups because it encourages âÄúco-mingling of ideas.âÄù