TAMPA — Students gathered outside the University of South Florida library Thursday afternoon, prepared for another night of camp-outs to demand the ability to study at all hours of the night.
Melissa Garzon passed out pens, encouraging students to write letters to administrators, when news cameras started to convene in the grass. Everyone walked over to see what was happening. They stood there, absorbing the announcement.
The students had been heard.
After a hotly contested reduction in library hours, administrators announced that the Tampa campus library will return to a schedule of being open 24 hours a day, five days a week, possibly within a week's time.
"I've met many students who have stayed the night out here, writing letters and making their voices heard," said student body president William Warmke, 22, appearing at a news conference with interim vice president of student affairs Tom Miller.
"Especially as a student," he said, "that takes a lot to stand up for what you believe in."
University officials met Thursday with Warmke. In a time of economic duress, the school will find $136,000 in its academic affairs budget to cover salaries to keep the library open all night. Those funds are recurring, officials said, so the issue of library hours should not come up again.
University leaders said they will cut the budget elsewhere to make up for the expense, but they had not settled on exactly where.
"We want to respond to our students," Miller said. "We met with Will and came to the conclusion that this is just going to take too long, which is not acceptable, so we had to find an immediate solution."
There might be something in the academic affairs budget that student activity and service fees could help cover to make up the difference, Warmke said, but it would have to go through a long process of approval first.
"We understand the major crisis that all universities and the system are facing with budget cuts," Warmke said. "We want to do anything we can to help as long as it's within our realm."
The library extended hours to 24 hours a day five days a week several years ago when student government pushed for it.
At the start of the fall semester, the library reduced hours by closing at midnight Monday through Thursday and Sunday, and at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Garzon organized a "sit-out" page on Facebook, encouraging students to study outside the library in the middle of the night. Students camped out to sunrise Aug. 30, and 1,600 signed a petition asking for the hours to be restored. They had planned a second sit-out for Thursday night.
"Why did it take students coming out and sitting outside the library for 12 hours before they did something about it?" asked student Ryan Emison, 19. "The money was here."
When she heard news of restored hours, Garzon burst into happy tears. It was her 20th birthday.
Not everyone realizes how the college experience has changed, she said, how some students are parents or have to work jobs at odd hours.
"No one was speaking up," she said. "Someone had to start something, had to let the university know we were upset. We can't just complain about it. Change won't happen."
After the announcement, Garzon grabbed a white poster board and a marker. She scrawled "WE WON!" in big, black letters and taped it to the library wall.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3394.