An estimated 1,500 students had signed a petition showing their support for the University of North Texas Libraries by Tuesday afternoon during an on-campus protest at the Library Mall.
Jody Billeaudeaux, a senior with a focus on philosophy and anthropology, said he organized the protest after he read an article in the Nov. 16 issue of the Denton Record-Chronicle in which Provost Warren Burggren discussed the $1.7 million budget hit to the library.
He said he felt that Burggren’s comments were “rhetoric” and “tried to shut us [opponents] down.”
Library officials were notified that the libraries would have to absorb $1.7 million in costs for employee benefits, a move expected to cut sharply into the materials purchases. The announcement sparked an online uproar on social media opposing the cutbacks.
Burggren told the Denton Record-Chronicle that the online uproar was premature and misguided but said he and other university officials understand the importance of a strong university library.
Billeaudeaux was unconvinced.
“Ninety-eight percent of the library’s funding comes from students and many don’t know that,” he said. “It’s unfair and unjust to just make a budget decision without considering how many rely on the library resources.”
Jack Powers, a professor who was formerly the chairman of the Faculty Senate’s University Library Committee,said recently that the library’s budget has been under stress in recent years as enrollment numbers have dropped or plateaued. The library’s budget is supported almost completely by the student library fee, which is $16.50 per credit hour, and hasn’t been increased in almost 10 years.
Many students at the Tuesday protest said that the temporary shutdown of the Student Union had sent even more traffic than usual to the library.
Billeaudeaux said it’s important that students are engaged where their money is spent.
“We need a legacy of supporters to continue on, as there is always a need for the library,” he said.
Dressed in several layers of clothing, Kelsey Fryman said she took over holding up a sign a freshman had made earlier that morning.
“I got here at noon and some freshman had made a sign and I took it when they left,” the history major said.
The sign read, “Student Feesa nd Tuition have increased! Why CUT the Library’s budget?”
Fryman said she is a senior,but is looking at applying for graduate school at the university.
“Why would I come here, though, if we aren’t going to take care of our library?” she said. “It’s a pivotal part of our education.”
In addition to the petition signed at the protest, an online petition, “Save the UNT Library” at change.org, has garnered more than 2,300 signatures.
Fryman said she hasn’t attended a meeting hosted by the university, but is planning on sitting in on an open meeting scheduled for Dec. 5 that will be hosted by Martin Halbert, the dean of libraries and an associate professor. The meeting will be at 2 p.m. at The Forum, Room 140, in the Willis Library.
“We are out here today encouraging everyone to attend the meeting and show their support,” she said.
Organizers said students who weren’t aware of the budget cuts were adding their signatures to the petition.
“The support today by everyone has just been remarkable,” Fryman said.
The protest is expected to start up again from 9 a.m to 4 p.m. today south of the Hurley Administration Building at the north side of the Library Mall.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.