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It was the best of Times, it was the worst of Times: Collegiate Readership Program for students only

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Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Updated: Sunday, December 15, 2013 12:12

Collegiate Readership Program

Photo by J. Christoffersen/ The Gateway

It is like something from a nightmare for a news-junkie such as me, which makes it all the more difficult to believe it actually happened.  I was walking through the Milo Bail Student Center toward the metal newspaper box I knew would be right around the corner. It was early and everyone was either groggy or still under their covers. I fantasized about the perfect morning I had planned: I was going to grab a New York Times before retreating into the quiet of the dining hall after slipping a student worker a few bucks for a not-half-bad cup of coffee. I would then sink into the silence of the a.m. behind the protection of the large broadsheet for some much-needed casual reading.

I could already see the Times. On the front would be a beautiful photo of some war-torn countryside, which would both invoke my empathy for the world and restore my faith in art at the same time. In the style section would be a stark photograph of some peaceful apartment in France, so close I could feel the chilly Parisian wind, yet so far I would be inspired to get there one day. I could already feel my heart beat faster as I imagined turning to the book reviews – oh, the book reviews!  As could I already smell the sting of Thai noodles from the latest review of Momofuku. I became excited and walked a little faster.

When I turned the corner, my world crumbled. Standing idly beside the metal newspaper box were two teachers, quietly talking. One of them nodded as she turned to the box, pulling it open with more ease since she didn’t have to swipe a MavCard. I saw a glimmer of a fat stack of New York Times, and watched in horror as she picked up all of them, stuffing them into the fold of her arms behind some battered textbook.

“I don’t really have anything for them to do today,” she sighed. “I think I’m just going to have them write an article review.”

I stood in shock as they passed me, oblivious to my suffering. My mind kept replaying the image of her sharp nails digging into the soft front pages as she snatched them out of the box. I imagined some afternoon Composition I class full of freshmen sleeping on my precious New York Times before the clock struck time for them to hand in half-hearted article reviews on folded notebook paper to some I-don’t-even-care adjunct English teacher before tossing the unread pile of newspaper into the trash.

Before the days of easy access to the papers, I could arrive at school with enough time to pick up a Times before going to my 3 p.m. class.

“Now I have to get here at the crack of dawn in order to find one,” complained Matt Vondrasek, a stony-faced, no-nonsense junior at UNO studying criminal justice. “I can’t bring myself to go to Starbucks and pay $2.50 for a Times when I’m already in debt having had to shell out student fees to pay for the same damn thing.”

I asked him why he thought the papers ran out so fast. He said that in just the five or so weeks they had been in school, multiple of his assignments in classes involved a newspaper, something that never happened in the past.

“I appreciate the teachers wanting us to extend our effort in hopes of reading the newspaper,” he said. “But I can’t help but think that there are more than a handful of apathetic students out there taking a whole paper, just to cut out a 300-word article on the front page.”

When I asked him what he thought was causing the increased abuse of the paper-privilege, he easily mentioned the absence of the MavCard card swipe function.  Yes, now The Omaha World-Herald, USA Today and New York Times are more widely available to students who were, in the past, less inclined to pick up a paper, but now the papers are left vulnerable to others on campus who don’t pay for the Collegiate Readership Program, such as UNO teachers and staff.

He recounted a similar experience he had in comparison to my heart-wrenching New York Times story, although he was considerably less emotional.

One morning Matt bumped into a woman at the newspaper stand, each of them reaching for a copy of that morning’s Omaha World-Herald. He said she let him pick up an issue, before friendly reaching in and taking the rest of the stack.

When he shot her an alarmed expression, she laughed, “I think these would be so nice to put out on the front desk in the office!”

For a moment I pondered his story, half thinking I should go find that woman somewhere deep within the folds of the Arts and Sciences building and confront her. We students pay handsomely for multiple services that, frankly, belong to students only. Sure, now we don’t have to dig within the depths our pockets to find our MavCard, but I would gladly take the extra three seconds to fumble with the card swipe if it meant that I could enjoy my NYT book reviews with my not-half-bad cup of coffee.


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