Rutgers should maintain its commitment to faculty, students and education
University President Robert L. Barchi has called students the “heart and soul” of the University, but as Rutgers management moves the University into the major leagues of college football, members of the University community — students, staff and faculty — are left questioning the veracity of this claim when academics suffer. There may be no more telling example than the University libraries, where massive budgets cuts are coupled with Big Ten fees and additional resource demands.
University management announced its intent to cut the Rutgers libraries budget by $550,000. When considering the annual inflation of subscription fees, this budget cut amounts to an $800,000 cut in the collections budget alone. Additionally, the libraries have to shoulder an annual $300,000 fee for becoming a member of the Big Ten’s academic consortium, with no assistance from the University’s unrestricted reserves.
Barchi touts the academic benefits of joining the Big Ten, claiming the Rutgers community now has access to more than 10 million titles through interlibrary loans. While that may be true, requests filled by other institutions incur shipping cost that Rutgers has to pay. Staff members are left wondering how the system will be able to continue to provide this service without the necessary funds. Has the University only gained nominal access to additional academic resources without being able to provide it in actuality?
Library selectors are currently making painful decisions as to which electronic journal subscriptions to cancel, but the shortfall cannot be closed by cancellations alone. Will library management consider other means to cut expenditures such as reduced hours, staff and services, all while student enrollment continues to climb? Any of these measures will result in a diminution of academic services that reflects poor priorities and negatively impacts all of us.
As of 2013, a comprehensive analysis showed Rutgers management is holding on to more than $600 million in unrestricted reserves, an extremely high figure in comparison to peer institutions, according to the study’s author, Dr. Howard Bunsis.
Yet the libraries are being told to do more with less. Is this the reality of Barchi’s commitment to Rutgers’ students? Concerned stakeholders are asking Barchi and the board of governors to reverse course on this unwise action. A petition and meetings with management are being made to plead the case, but it will be up to Barchi and Rutgers management to honor their commitment by expanding access to library resources instead of cutting them.
Priscilla Lee is a library associate who works the Circulation Desk at Rutgers Kilmer Library in Piscataway.