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Opposition to Library Funding Cutback

By Peter R. Rony

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 32 - May 11, 1995

I heard rumors, during the last several weeks, about the possibility of up to a 25-percent cutback in the funding of University Library serial titles. I patiently waited for a formal announcement; it came today, May 3, the last day of classes for the 1994-95 academic year.

As a faculty member, I am personally offended by a number of items in the April 28 memo, which was sent to all faculty members. This opinion piece is not a personal criticism of the new dean of University Libraries, who comes to this beleaguered campus with excellent credentials. I regret that she has to spend her valuable time on a retreat in the quality of our library.

My point of reference is that the university library is one of our fundamental, community resources. Significant changes in the support and operation of this resource should be made only with the advice and consent of all who use the library. Such advice and consent has neither been sought nor provided.

The key problem in the memo is the magnitude of the cutback, a $1-million reduction in a current budget of $6 million for "books, serials, and other information resources." This is not the 5-percent cutback being applied equally to all colleges in the university. Who are the few individuals who made the decision for a million-dollar cutback? Why did they omit faculty participation throughout the entire campus in making such a decision? All faculty members, all departments, all colleges should be heard. The faculty members are not sheep, existing merely to implement decisions already made by administrators.

A second problem is one of implementation. The "short time frame available" is unacceptable, inconsiderate, and inappropriate. It is also unfair to the dean of University Libraries and to the library faculty and staff. Most faculty members have already made plans for the summer and are not in a position to change them at the last minute. For many, if not most, of us, the summer is our time--time to be responsible for research grants (for which we are paid a summer salary), time to work on manuscripts, time to engage in other professional activities.

The time crunch can be eliminated by a simple action: immediately remove the $1-million reduction in funding for the library, and allow the faculty time to deliberate its vision for the future of the library during the 1995-96 academic year. As it stands now, the proposed action is simply a million-dollar patch with no vision and no promise of a stable future for the library.

My suggestion is that the library skip the $1-million target, and instead identify all the outrageously overpriced journals in its current holdings. We can focus on alternative document supply methods for such journals, and then publicize our decision to cancel them in the Chronicle of Higher Education as an attempt to encourage subscriber feedback and outrage nationally over excessive prices and excessive annual price increases.

Rumor has it that the College of Engineering's theoretical share of the proposed $1-million serial title cutback may be $140,000. To make a good dent in this annual sum, I propose that we permanently drop the administrative position of vice provost for academic affairs, which, according to the AAUP, had a $110,000 salary. I would place our scarce financial resources into a modern vision of our future university library rather than into too many unneeded mid-level academic administrators.

As a second suggestion, I recommend that a large ($10 million or more) endowment fund for the support of the university library be pursued during the $250-million fund-raising campaign. We should be imaginative about such an endowment campaign. Can we create endowed and named library sub-collections? It is truly amazing how little input there is by the faculty community into the funding priorities of the campaign. Surely our university library is a consensus candidate for more stable financial support by our alumni and benefactors.

As a third suggestion, perhaps we should consider using a portion of research overhead funds to support library serial costs. I consider the University Library to be part of the infrastructure that supports our capability to conduct research.