Here we go again, you probably thought: the story of a wretched economy, a budget cut to the bone, and education getting the short end yet again.
Except this one has a surprise ending.
It wasn't like students at the University of South Florida's main campus in Tampa had themselves in a lather over something like, say, demands for more Red Bull in the vending machines or getting Miley Cyrus as their commencement speaker.
No, their recent protest was actually about learning.
Studying, to be more precise.
They had showed up for the new school year only to learn that the days of hitting the library overnight — that time-honored tradition of pulling an all-nighter to pore over class notes, finish assignments and cram — would be but a memory.
Blame a dismal budget, they where told, but from here on out, the USF library once open 'round the clock on weekdays would now close from midnight to 7:30 a.m.
Students did not say, "whatever," however. They gathered in a peaceful protest outside the library overnight to say: We're sitting here because this matters to us. They wrote letters to the university president. They made clear in a student government survey that 95 percent of them believed those library hours were important to how they did in school.
Few things in college are as time-honored and steadfast as the library, no matter how the books-to-technology ratio may morph with the years. The college library was quiet and safe and thank god air-conditioned, or blessedly warm if you went to one of those schools where it snowed. You found a cubby hole and fell into organic chemistry or 17th century poetry or macroeconomics, and you did not risk a roommate bursting in with a 12-pack and a plan for a beer pong marathon. You could be alone until you gathered your things and went home, eyes bleary and head full.
The price tag for keeping the USF library open overnight with two librarians — about $136,000 — didn't seem so big given the overall budget of the university. But these days plenty of us know the sting of bosses looking to cut anything they can, anywhere they can.
So the bottom line was this: Kids who wanted to study into the early hours — and that's study, not play a sport, or hear a band, or party down, but study — would not have access to their library in which to do it.
What happened next was a learning experience for anyone who thinks money is money and what does it matter where in a budget it comes from. There was the question of whether this should be funded from money intended for academics or for student activities. When you are deeply involved in such budgets, these territorial details matter greatly.
But in the end, everyone hunkered down and came up with a solution that involved (!!!) working together. Important detail: They even managed to come up with a recurring source for such funding instead of some scratched-up one-time cash to limp through until next year, when they could face this all over again.
So those classic library all-nighters should soon commence, and what a lesson to take from your college years:
That protest can work, particularly when it hooks up with compromise.