Realizing an academic right

Concordia’s library keeps the hours typical of many college libraries, making it, tragically, perfectly average. For those students set on transcending average (or virtually any student majoring in Concordia’s reputably challenging sciences), the library’s early closing proves a nuisance. Worse, the hours ultimately manifest an allocation of resources that sets academics and intellectualism lower on the school’s long list of priorities. For any self-respecting educational institution, that calls for a reordering of concerns.

To be sure, the reasoning backing what the hours are now—closing at midnight during the week and 5:00 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays—are many and reasonable. What makes such reasons unpersuasive, though, is the inaccurate arrangement of ideas on what defines a school’s merit.

I will argue that a college is only as good as its students. Certainly, a school may have great clubs, competitive sports teams, top-notch professors, excellent networking opportunities, good job placement and so forth (and indeed, Concordia may boast several of these), but without outstanding students, these traits would be void. Clubs are formed by students, teams are rostered by students, good networks come from previous students and good professors are a waste if the minds seated in their classes lack the thirst for intellect that Concordia strives to inculcate in its students.

If a school is only as good as the intellectual capital nested in its student body, then fostering that intellect becomes a prior concern in maintaining a college’s worth. In some regards, the overall merit of a college’s student body is out of any realistic control. In others, there are steps that can be taken to make structural steps forward in breeding academics that do more than settle for average.

One of those steps would be to open the library 24 hours per day, seven days per week. That begins the process of making Concordia’s campus as hospitable as possible to the students that busy themselves with clubs and teams during the day, leaving themselves only the evenings to finish their (hopefully) considerable amount of coursework. Making the hard-working feel at home will pay in dividends.

Obviously, there are capital constraints putting the possibility of later hours at odds with finances. Though admittedly lacking access to the proper financial statements, there are measures that make this initiative a possibility even in light of resource constraints.

A viable option would be for the library to close the main collection off at the same time that the building closes now, but to leave the fishbowl and serendipity open. That way, students wouldn’t be allowed to check out books, but would have a warm, well-lit study space with an Internet connection and outlets abound.

That leaves only the problem of staffing and overhead. After hours, only one person would be required to staff the desk, for purposes of security and general oversight. That job would become the basic equivalent of a dormitory desk job. Finding workers wouldn’t be difficult—there is no small supply of students up late and in need of some extra cash.

Overhead is the only glitch. Closing down the main parts of the library takes away the lighting cost, but leaves heating. This is where the college would need to make a decision to absorb a relatively insignificant cost structure in the name of making an academic right a reality for the students who need it. Doing so would be a wise investment.

First, opening the library’s doors later at night breeds a culture. Some schools do in fact have 24-hour libraries, as novel a concept as that may sound to some at Concordia. Those libraries provide a home to those that need a stable place to get their work done. Providing a home for those tired, young and restless not only makes their lives better but also sends a message that this is a campus where students come to work hard and get things done.

That work-driven culture would bring Concordia benefits in the long run as well. Prospective students that pride themselves on academic merit want to attend top-notch schools in order to be surrounded by like-minded elites. Breeding a culture that encourages more motivated students to apply to Concordia in greater numbers will incrementally increase the school’s prestige and allow it move beyond par.

Should Concordia begin stealing those work-centered students and providing them with a cozy home for their intellect, the logic goes, they will, on average, go on to generally more prosperous careers. This is where short-term cost becomes a long-term investment. The greater average income that those Concordia alumni receive will in turn come back to the school in the form of donations, allowing for greater expansion of the educational opportunities that are now required to keep a school from falling to mediocrity. Maybe those weary science students could even get that new science building they’ve been jonesing for.

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