By Steven Krieger and Jed Ela
Funding to the University of California system was recently reduced by $813 million because of California’s $26.3 billion budget deficit. In response, the UC system has increased student fees and reduced services.
Few welcome student-fee increases, but the reduction of services, specifically the hours of campus libraries, is dividing the student body on UCLA’s campus.
Beginning this past weekend, UCLA closed all libraries on Saturdays, except for the libraries at the UCLA School of Law and UCLA Anderson School of Management.
University libraries get less use on Saturdays than during the week, so at first this seems like a reasonable way to save money. Ideally, students wanting library access on Saturdays could still go to the law school or Anderson School.
The only problem is that the law school, fearful of overwhelming demand from the closures of the other libraries, continues to maintain its existing policy of severely restricting access for non-law students.
This policy allows only 30 non-law students to use the Law Library per day, unless a non-law student has a special legal research need verified by a faculty adviser.
Law school administrators believe that a majority of law students support this policy and that student wishes should be honored because we pay for our education.
But the truth is, no poll of the law school student body has asked whether we would be open to sharing the library one day a week given the extraordinary budget crisis. Moreover, need a law school always be a democracy?
Surely, a majority of UCLA law students would prefer a more friendly pass-fail grading system like that used by Stanford, Yale and Harvard universities. But on this issue, school administrators would insist that leadership means more than doing whatever a majority of students desire.
Whether supported by a majority of law students or not, a policy excluding the rest of campus from our library during a time of extraordinary need is incompatible with the intellectual openness required to run a great public university.
When all 12 of the libraries in the UCLA Library system are open, our library’s policy should have little impact on non-law students wanting a quiet place to study.
But on Saturdays, when only two campus libraries are open and few law students are using our library, we have no excuse for keeping its doors barred to others.
There are legitimate concerns about expanding library access to other UCLA students, even one day a week.
For example, law students should have first priority to use the library exclusively funded by our fees, and we should never be turned away because of overwhelming use by other students.
On Saturdays, however, concerns of adequate space are far from reality. Even on the busiest days during finals, neither of us has ever seen the Law Library anywhere close to its full capacity.
It seems wasteful to exclude others just so law students can have two people sit at tables designed for four. Maintaining a quiet library atmosphere is a more realistic concern. More students may generate more noise, but the solution is not to restrict access, but rather to police the whispering of all library users more effectively, law students included.
California has arguably the best public university system in the world.
If we wish to maintain it, we need to face budgetary challenges together, rather than let them divide us. UCLA’s law school should lead the way in promoting a strong UC system, not take steps toward privatizing UC libraries by restricting access for non-law students.
If law students want an exclusive, private library, even on Saturdays when demand is down, Los Angeles has another great law school, which is private, just down the road.
If the Law Library took the following two simple steps, it would help UCLA become stronger, rather than weaker, in response to the current budget crisis:
1. Allow all UCLA students with a valid ID to use the library on Saturdays, provided the library remains below a comfortable percent of capacity. The existing security guards could easily enforce a simple capacity limit using a hand-held mechanical counter.
2. Encourage the guards to actively enforce appropriate noise levels during their normal walk-throughs.
In the meantime, if two non-law school students want to study on Saturday afternoons, they are welcome to take our places in the Law Library.
If nothing else, the law school can raise its limited access policy to 32 students.
Krieger and Ela are graduate students in law.