The UNT Library Budget Cuts: The Back Story

It seems I need to be forthright with my reasoning behind supporting the library at this time of possible cuts.  Revealing my biases in supporting the library come from my unique, yet not uncommon return to the university.  Unlike many UNT students, I returned to finish my education after a number of years in the “real world” earning a decent wage.  Before returning to complete my education, I worked fifteen years in various retail management positions.  I decided to return to higher education, after becoming very disheartened by the level of dishonesty needed to achieve “success” in the consumer oriented business world.  In my various positions selling various products I learned; an informed, wealthy customer was a hard sell and even harder to satisfy, and an uniformed, poor customer was not only an easy sell, but a gold mine.  While some of you–quiet clearly—understand the point in my “real world” revelation of whom is best customer.  More so in recent years, universities have become businesses, focusing more on the making of profits, than the education of students.  Student debt is at an all time high.  Americans seem to be cognizant, as well as accepting of the fact that their children are burdened with nearly $30,000 in educational debt from birth.  In this country we continue to support the belief that a Higher Education is a necessity, that degrees are necessary for long-term success, yet at the close of every graduation ceremony, millions of student enter the “real world” of unemployment.  Let me be clear, I did not return to my education in the hope of financial success, I returned to understand the brokenness of a culture, which seeks to profit from the poor, and disadvantaged.

As a student at UNT over the past four years, I too have become complacent in the entrenchment of soft fascism as an American cultural norm.  I failed to notice or participate in the fleecing of UNT students, when on two separate occasions students voted and approved a fee increase for the stadium and union.  Based on the percentages of students voting, I was not alone in my complacency, with more than 80% of the student body not participating in the increase of student fees.  As non-voting students, we are the poor, and uninformed consumer, we are the gold mine.

Before voting on student fee increases for the stadium and the union, students were pitched a grand plan for improving the university.  “Four Bold Goals” and “a green light to Greatness” became commonplace ideologies, commitments from the administration towards the supporting students and building a Greater university.  As students these commitments, spoke to our current desires, and proclaimed our legacy of support to future generations of students.  As a non-voting student, I feel the need to apologize for my complacency, my inaction, my misplaced faith in a corrupt administration.  My actions in supporting the library now, is my thought filled apology to current students and to the legacy I leave behind.

Save the Library Facebook and Blog pages are fighting the good fight to support the library by remaining structurally mindful of the order of things.  I, on the other hand, feel a deep sense of personal responsibility as a student given my above biases.  Although I feel our perspectives are different in rallying support for the library,  I believe we are united in solidarity for the cause.  For me, I see these two perspectives are united in the blog post on Community and Solidarity.  Rather than surrendering to notion, “pretending to be free and individualistic,” I argue for the ownership of agency, a commitment to responsibility that is socially inclusive.  For me, this is a means, that even “individualistic” Americans can orient themselves socially and retain their unique individualism.  I write this uncertain of how it may reach you.  My perspective is that of the student and consumer.

The corruption I direct towards the administration, like the libraries shortfall is retroactive.  Looking back, one can clearly construct and argument of wrongful intent on the part of the administration.  Three days ago, I was entrusted with information from an anonymous source; I think students have the right to know this.  In addressing the UNT Libraries $1.7 million shortfall, we must first understand how this could have happened? 

The UNT Libraries budget is 98% funded by student fees of $16.50 per student credit hour and has remained unchanged since 2004.  The library budget must contend with fluctuations based on enrollment, astronomically increasing cost of electronic journal resources, a 40-year-old building that receives over 1 million visitors per year, rapidly increasing number of visitors due to the closing of the union, very little faculty support for any of the libraries upkeep as compared to other departments,  all of which on a decades old fee schedule.

The current Dean of Libraries, Dr. Martin Halbert has written two very in-depth reports on ways to close the libraries budgetary gaps.  These reports offered four options to make significant progress in closing gaps.  Dr. Halbert, along with other Libraries administrators, have given tremendous thought and research toward sustainable growth plans, which have on multiple occasions, been presented to the current President, his budget Council, and the people of the Budget Office.  These plans were obviously never acted on.

The major factor in becoming a Tier 1 university is the strength of the library.  Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board identifies Texas State University-San Marcos, Texas Tech University, The University of Texas at Arlington, The University of Texas at Dallas, The University of Texas at El Paso, The University of Texas at San Antonio, and the University of Houston as UNT’s peer institutions as “emerging research universities.” For the last decade, the average of our peer institutions’ library spending per student was about $650, while UNT’s was about $340.  UNT’s spending is half that of peer universities. For a one-on-one comparison, for the last decade, Texas Tech has spent an average of about $7 million dollars more annually than UNT on library expenditures; that’s an annual average of about $350 more per student.

UNT Libraries start way behind our THECB peers in terms of library funding in general. To effectively reduce that amount by $1.7 million by requiring UNT Libraries to cover employee benefits is unthinkable.  Why were past budgets ignored by administration?  Is it possible that students would not have supported construction plans and added fees, if the libraries needs were known?  Was the Library thrown under the proverbial bus for plans, which might be more attractive to prospective students, boosting enrollment and profit?  As a student, should the slighting of our educational needs for those more profitable comfort us?

Low student voter turn out in both construction endeavors, shows minimal interest on the part of the students.  The disconnect from why we are here and what we contribute (education and money), is clearly a means of exploiting the student body for the financial gains of some.  What we as students have done in our complacent disregard may not be undone, but we must stand up and support the library now.  The library needs strong student advocacy now.  UNT is days away from appointing a new President, now more than ever we need to stand up for the library.  It is of vital importance that the incoming President is made aware of the libraries’ importance to the students.  The Library needs a strong student support in the SGA as well.  As students and faculty are now aware of how far behind our libraries are in comparison to our peer institutions, we must stand up now or willfully continue to fall behind.  The library needs your immediate action, on November 26th and 27th come support your library.

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