Library funding issue unclear

Library funding issue unclear

Joshua Knopp / Senior Staff Writer

Web pages and flyers to save the UNT library have popped up all over Facebook and campus as the library faces a $1.7 million shortfall in its budget.

Dean of libraries Martin Halbert said in a Wednesday, Nov. 13 email to his staff that budget director Brenda Cates told him UNT was no longer able to cover benefits to library employees, which add up to $1.7 million. This new obligation is effective immediately and retroactive to Sept. 1, according to the email.

On Friday, provost and vice president for academic affairs Warren Burggren said there is no shortfall, and this is based on a miscommunication about changing the source of benefits for library employees.

Halbert released a statement on Save the UNT Library’s website, saying all discussion is premature and that the provost had just returned from a trip abroad. Halbert will be out of the country until Nov. 30 for a conference.

Save the UNT Library’s Facebook page posted that Halbert said the libraries would absorb the shortfall through cutbacks to materials and purchases and by delaying future hires. All material budget spending was stopped Nov. 14.

“This will, of course, impact all academic units on campus and may result in cutting all materials purchases by a third,” Halbert said. “At this point, there is no way to know the precise effects of this budget decision. UNT Libraries’ leadership will be reviewing our options from every angle, and I will appeal to the administration for budgetary relief as well.”

Burggren said library employees are fee-based, or paid using student tuition fees designated for library expenses. The university has been trying to use those same fees to support library employees’ benefits, instead of taking reimbursements from state funding. Burggren said this sort of transition has already taken place in departments like housing and dining.

Burggren said the recent increases in room and board fees can partially be attributed to this changeover.

Vice President of university relations Kelley Reese said fee increases need to be approved by the Board of Regents, and there currently isn’t anything of the sort on the agenda for their quarterly meeting in December. Reese said she would be surprised if it was added at this point, because discussion normally takes place over a long period of time.

Associate English professor Masood Ashraf Raja, in conjunction with students and other faculty, put up the Save the UNT Library web page and Facebook group in response. In two days, the Facebook group has more than 6,400 likes. There is also an associated Change.org petition directed at UNT President V. Lane Rawlins with more than 1,600 signatures.

UNT librarians are not allowed to discuss this issue with the media, and can only direct students to the University Relations, Communications and Marketing department.

Burggren said he and dean of libraries Martin Halbert still need to discuss how employee benefits and the shortfall will be addressed going forward, and that all discussion of this decision’s effects on the budget is premature until they do.

Feature photo courtesy of unt.edu.

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