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Library hours cut as university spending shrinks

Published: Monday, August 26, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 07:08

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ORACLE PHOTO/SHAUNDA WICKHAM


While more than 1,000 students have signed online petitions and liked Facebook pages, calling for the restoration of the USF Tampa Library hours to its 24/5 schedule, different departments across the university are discussing who should pay for the additional funds it takes to keep the Library open in a time of financial shrinking. 

The Library’s reduced hours, now open from 7:30 a.m. until midnight on Mondays through Thursdays and until 6 p.m. on Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and from noon to midnight on Sundays, are part of the financial belt-tightening students will begin to feel as the university embarks on its plans to become more financially sound. 

William Garrison, dean of USF Libraries, said funding for keeping the library open for the extra hours had never been recurring. 

The Library began funding additional hours in Spring 2010, when a Student Government (SG) project pushed for extended hours. 

On a campus with a large population of non-traditional, commuter and working students, the Library would see about 400-500 students during the overnight hours, and upwards of 1,000 during midterm and finals week, Garrison said. 

During the first two semesters of operation, the Library funded the additional hours, which cost about $136,000, through its carry-forward cash reserves. After those funds were dried, the Office of Student Success funded the operation through one-time expenditures. 

But now, Garrison, who said his staff “fought tooth and nail” until last week to keep the Library open 24/5, said as the university undergoes spending reductions, there are no longer funds for keeping the Library open during extended hours. 

“We don’t have enough to fund 24/5,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve been under a mandate from the Provost to make sure that we don’t cut our materials used for teaching, learning and research. So the material costs have gone up, but our budget has gone down. We’ve been robbing Peter to pay Paul, if you will, to make sure the budget balances. But this year is really critical, because we just don’t have the money to fund it.”

USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said funding to keep the Library open 24/5 was something that was always an “extra” and that the university didn’t have the funds to keep up the operational hours given the financial squeeze the university faces.

But, he said, the change should not come as a surprise. The expectation when SG initially proposed the project, he said, was that they would provide funding as well — funding he said SG has never provided. 

In spring, he said, the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Student Affairs put in a joint request for allocating a portion of the Activities and Services (A&S) fee, a $14.1 million budget controlled by SG that each student pays a $7 flat fee and a $12.08 per credit hour A&S fee into, to continue extended use of the Library. Wilcox said it was made clear at the time that the university did not have the funds to continue the 24/5 operation.

“It’s time Student Government stepped up and passed a budget reflective of students’ needs,” he said. 

Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Tom Miller said SG has requested to meet with the Provost to discuss the issue.

Student body President William Warmke said the Office of Academic Affairs approached SG with a proposal that initially would have A&S fees paying for one-third of the costs necessary to keep the Library open this year, the Office of Academic Affairs paying for one-third and the Office of Student Affairs paying for one-third. Warmke said the Office of Academic Affairs later retracted their proposal, stating they wished to pay for one-fourth of the cost, have Student Affairs pay for one-fourth of the cost and have A&S fees pay for half the costs. 

In future years, Warmke said, A&S fees would be required to sustain the full costs of operation. 

“We believe A&S fees shouldn’t be spent on something as core and central as academics, which doesn’t even fall under our jurisdiction,” he said. “We believe that’s what you pay tuition for.”

But, Warmke said, SG is considering other options, such as expanding the hours of the Marshall Student Center to be 24 hours — an option that would lie outside the jurisdiction of Academic Affairs, but provide students with a space to study.

In an email Wilcox sent on Monday night to Warmke in response to his request for a meeting, Wilcox said he is hopeful that they can find a solution that will allow the Library to “continue its extended hours in this challenging financial climate.”  

Currently, both the University of Florida (UF) and Florida State University offer 24/5 hours at their libraries. Warmke said he spoke to the UF student body president who said UF’s student government reached a similar agreement with their Provost’s office in using student fees to partially fund it, keeping the library open for extended hours. 

In Wilcox’s email to Warmke, he said other student governments across the state “readily and strategically shared in the cost of extending library hours which, after all, are available to all students with rare faculty utilization during the overnight hours.”

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