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Letter to the editor

Personal laptop purchase beneficial

March 13, 2009

I read with great interest the article “Wireless system may be too small” and find it troubling that the Faculty Senate rejected the Technology Council’s resolution to make the campus more accommodating to the growing use of wireless devices and Wi-Fi. The Student Voice did not elaborate on the Faculty Senate’s reasons for rejecting, so I will somewhat suspend judgment and hope that the Faculty Senate will be soon forthcoming with more information.

As Mary-Alice Muraski has correctly stated, it is not an efficient use of University resources to maintain computer labs with fixed workstations (desktop computers). The support costs are high, the usage benefit relatively low in proportion to those costs. I have personally studied the computer labs’ usage data, and it supports Ms. Muraski’s claim.

Computer lab equipment is not only expensive but also has the unfortunate characteristic of rapid depreciation of value. Even the most cutting-edge computer equipment rapidly becomes obsolete and worthless. Budgetary constraints require that the University retain such obsolete equipment until it is fully depreciated in value. Consequently, much of the lab equipment becomes significantly less useful well before it is replaced.

Compounding this problem is the cost for ITS to continue to support obsolete equipment. If you have ever personally considered paying to repair an old computer then you will understand this dilemma. If a repair is not covered under warranty, it’s often preferable to just purchase a new unit. However, such may not be feasible within the regulatory structure of the available budget.

Many students already bring their own personal computer to class. This is in fact the most rational solution. Unfortunately, these students are currently paying twice over—both for the lab computers and for the personal computer that they actually use. Clearly, they find the benefit to exceed the extra cost. However, it does not follow that it is truly justifiable for the University to double-charge them for something they don’t want or need.

The University has committed itself to sustainable practices. Obsolete computer equipment contains toxic waste which costs money to properly dispose. In contrast, students who use their own computer will take it with them when they leave. The student keeps her data, and the University doesn’t incur disposal costs. The problem of depreciation is largely solved because the student, not the University, takes ownership of it. The incoming freshmen can purchase a state-of-the-art computer for themselves. Support costs are off-loaded to the computer manufacturer, where they belong.

It would be a far better use of the segregated Technology Fee to provide students with a fixed subsidy voucher toward the purchase of the computer of their choice. The University could perhaps negotiate with manufacturers a special price for a suggested model which would fit the needs of those students unsure about their preferences. The University could make available the requisite course software through Textbook Services or ITS. Students would benefit from greater flexibility and customization of their computing experience. Both the University and students would benefit from lower costs.

Brent Hopkins, student