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Public computer labs on Grounds should not be eliminated entirely

The Information Technology and Communication office has unveiled plans to remove all public computer labs from the University, except for a small number of computers to run high-end software. ITC claims that because 99 percent of all incoming first-year students own a laptop, public computer labs are redundant. While it is true that most students have a laptop, it is not true that all students carry their laptops all the time. The laptops provided by the Desktop Computing Initiative are bulky and do not lend themselves to easy transportation. While many students use laptops in class, a significant number of students do not and many professors would prefer the number of students with laptops in class decrease, not increase. ITC’s plan to remove the majority of public computer labs is ill-conceived and fails to take into account the needs of University students.

Even though almost all students have a laptop, it is unacceptable for ITC to eliminate all public computers. Aside from the obvious consideration of those students who do not currently have computers, laptops also periodically malfunction and students have to do without until they can be repaired. ITC maintains that it will provide a small number of desktops for specialized software that students may not be able to access on their personal computers, but this is not sufficient to address the needs of students who find themselves temporarily without a computer. Additionally, ITC uses statistics of first-year students to make the point that most University students own a laptop. ITC has not considered the case of an upperclass student whose laptop is no longer functional and does not have the means to replace it right away.

According to Michael McPherson, University associate vice president and deputy chief information officer, there are no plans to make laptops mandatory for incoming students. This is an important distinction because certain scholarships and college funds can only be used to buy materials that are required for college. The University can use financial aid methods to grant qualifying students computers but there will always be a gap between those who qualify for aid and those who can reasonably afford a laptop in addition to the other college expenses.

If public computers were not available on Grounds, any student wanting to use a computer at any time during the day would be forced to carry his laptop with him. Almost all students would bring laptops to class, and many professors would oppose this. Currently, the most affordable laptops provided through the Desktop Computing Initiative are not easily portable because of their size and weight. It is unreasonable to expect students to carry these large laptops all day in addition to books that are required for class.

By declaring its intention to remove public computers from Grounds, ITC has demonstrated its misunderstanding of students’ actual needs concerning those computers. While most student usage is confined to programs available on laptops, if a student is using a public computer, he likely does not have his laptop with him or might not even have one at all. Public computing use is still high: 651,900 hours in 2008 according to ITC’s Web site. That is more than 70 years collectively spent on public computers on Grounds in the last year. ITC has not fully considered the impact of this decision and the removal of public computer labs will place an unreasonable burden on University students.  


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