TAMPA — University of South Florida administrators said Thursday they will find the money to restore overnight hours at the Tampa campus’ main library, leading students to declare victory and cancel another planned protest.
Tom Miller, interim vice president of student affairs, said a funding source had not yet been determined but the university had committed to reopening the center around the clock.
“Senior leadership at the university, from the president to the provost to me, we decided this has to be done,” Miller said. “Supporting student success might be the most important thing that we can possibly do. There’s no evidence that directly ties student success to this – students study somewhere – but it’s intuitive that it makes a difference for them, and we should do this.”
He could not say when the overnight hours would resume, but he said administrators hoped it would be by next week.
Students returned to campus this semester to learn that USF had trimmed library hours from what was known as 24/5 – around the clock on Sunday through Thursday – to a regular daily schedule of 7:30 a.m. to midnight. Last week, a group of about 70 students held what they called a “sit-out” outside the closed library, bringing computers, study materials, power strips and blankets with many staying overnight.
On Thursday, protest organizers were collecting letters from students to USF President Judy Genshaft urging her to restore the hours. They had collected about 200 by afternoon.
A second sit-out was planned for midnight Thursday, but was canceled after the news broke.
“I didn’t expect this. I ran out of class to come back to the letters event, and I heard all these people saying there’s rumors that 24/5 is back,” said Melissa Garzon, who organized the protest. “I’m just really proud of everyone who came to the sit-out, who helped organize, who wrote letters. I can’t find the exact words to express how I feel right now.”
After years of cutbacks in higher education funding from the state Legislature, USF and other state universities are attempting to restore reserve funds that were depleted during the economic downturn. The library cuts were expected to save $130,000 this school year, which the university would have banked to build up the rainy-day fund and protect its superior bond ratings.
It has also taken steps such as a hiring freeze, having professors teach more classes and travel cuts.
Miller said the likely result of the library remedy would be some current vacancies going unfilled. He said it was a temporary solution, and there might be a “creative solution going forward.”
USF had tried to get student government to provide the funding for the extended hours. Students pay an activities and services fee along with tuition, and that $14 million pot is dedicated to student activities. Student body president Will Warmke said he was reluctant to use the money for an academic activity.
Warmke said he was proud of the students’ activism.
“Especially as a student, that takes a lot to stand up for something you believe in,” he said. “I highly encourage people: peaceful protest, have your voice heard. It’s worked out so far.”