Editorial: Regardless of the result, the library fee referendum is unfair to students

The vote is a decision between two negative outcomes.

This week, the student body will vote between funding their library facilities themselves through a proposed fee, or letting them continue to decay and fall behind in comparison to our peer universities’ libraries. The referendum is a decision between two negatives, and students should not have been placed in this position.

The proposed fee, which would fund renovations, would start as a $5-per-credit-hour student fee and incrementally increase to $15 per credit hour over the next six years. At $15 per credit hour, the libraries would receive $13 million in additional funding per year.

It’s great that this decision has been left to a student vote, though it’s troubling that the Missouri Students Association and Residence Halls Association took a stance on the fee months preceding the vote itself. Last March, both MSA and RHA formally endorsed the fee. We feel that these endorsements came far too early for the students that MSA and RHA represent to make a confident decision on this fee.

As an editorial board, we’re torn and cannot say for certain which way students should vote on this fee. However, what we can say for certain is that the library needs this funding and we can blame state lawmakers, not the library, for not providing it to them.

While the student body grew by approximately 50 percent from 1998 and 2013, library staffing decreased by 25 percent. Our library currently has a staff of 156, compared to 201 in 2001. The average public AAU school’s library has 255 staff members. While the fee wouldn’t bring MU’s staff numbers all the way back to the average, it would bring us far closer through the addition of 40 new staff positions.

Funding from the state level would definitely be a worthwhile investment, but is it just as worthwhile when it comes from students? Affordability is a clear concern across the student body, and the immediate average of $75 per student per semester isn’t exactly pocket change.

Opponents of the fee aren’t arguing that the requested funding for the library isn’t worthwhile at all, but rather that it’s not worthwhile when it’s coming from the students.

Regardless of the library’s clear need for this funding, the position students have been placed in is an unfair no-win situation.

If the fee doesn’t pass, the future of our library is bleak and uncertain. It’s impossible to say whether they’ll be able to find any other funding, as they’ve already been trying to do so for years. The quality of our library will continue to diminish.

If the fee does pass, it will set a dangerous precedent. The library system will get its steady stream of funding, and most of its immediate problems will be resolved — but what precedent does this set when it comes to higher education funding in the state of Missouri? Is it OK for students to continue to pay more for their education as the state continues to pay less?

It’s no secret that the state of Missouri isn’t exactly fond of higher education funding. For years, the state has limited funding to MU in a variety of ways. As a result of this, our administration has responded by reallocating funding within the university itself and by creating additional student fees.

The implementation of a library fee first became an option for the library when it became clear that funding wouldn’t come from administration. They were told by administration that, because of Senate Bill 389, which only allows tuition raises at the level of the Consumer Price Index, the money simply wasn’t there.

But where else could the money come from, if not from a fee?

With the “Mizzou Our Time to Lead” capital campaign picking up speed, many have asked whether the needed funding can come from alumni donations. Currently, the library receives an annual revenue stream of $500,000 from donations like these. This funding does help the library stay afloat, but it’s nowhere near the $15 million needed to return us to the average annual expenditures of other similar libraries.

The true source of the library’s funding needs isn’t the students, or capital donors, but the state of Missouri. The improvements to the library are necessary, and the fee might be necessary in this specific situation, but it shouldn't have come to this and cannot come to this next time.

The bottom line is this: If we’re going to prioritize the quality of our education, then our administration and state needs to as well. Regardless of the outcome of this election, this trend of students progressively paying more for our own educations needs to end.

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