Sonoma State University student leaders and administrators plan to hold focus groups and forums to gauge student sentiment about a $300-a-year fee to build a new student center.

The fee was approved in a student vote in April, 59 percent to 41 percent. But the referendum was dogged by criticism that it had been unfairly managed and that administration officials had tried to sway the results.

In August, as California State University trustees were to vote on the project's financing plan, SSU President Ruben Armi?na postponed his request for trustee approval and a planned groundbreaking, saying he would seek additional student input.

He acknowledged at the time that the possibility of a lawsuit, raised by a legal nonprofit that weighed in on behalf of referendum critics and said irregularities had taken place, had helped shape his decision.

On Wednesday, asked if he would pursue the center if student opinion now seemed against it, Armi?na said, "I'm not going to get the cart before the horse, no preconceived decisions until we see what the result of the consultation process is."

SSU's fee advisory committee, together with the Associated Students Inc. organization that includes the student government, is fine-tuning the process.

It will be "transparent" and draw from a "representative sample" of the student body, said Lori Heffernon, SSU's Director of Academic resources, who co-chairs the committee.

Opponents of the fee and critics of the election have objected to the involvement of the Associated Students group because it endorsed and campaigned for the fee and its revenues will go toward the center's construction.

ASI President Alex Boyar also co-chairs the fee advisory committee.

"ASI is a partner in the project and if they are designing the focus groups they are clearly going to have a bias in it," said Anthony Gallino, a sophomore who campaigned against the fee, arguing it would burden students who couldn't afford it.

Mathematics professor and faculty chairman Ben Ford said he was aware of such concerns but that they seemed unfounded.

"Everybody as far as I can tell is being incredibly careful to try to remove any potential sources of bias from the process," he said.

Armi?na said the Associated Students organization as to be part of the consultation process.

"They are the official representative of the students," he said.

[END_CREDIT_0]You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at