At Harper Library the hum of laptops
and fingers striking keyboards drowns out the rustle of
turning pages. Personal digital assistants are omnipresent
as students check their to-do lists or play Minesweeper
before, after, and during class.
But the technology wave has hardly turned
the idea of a paperless campus into reality. The printers
in the USITE/Crerar and USITE/Harper computing clusters
crank out reams of paper with amazing speed. “I’ve
put 3,000 sheets in one printer in the span of a few hours,”
says Gur Talpaz, a student assistant in the Crerar cluster.
Each computer lab uses about 500 pages per hour, he notes,
and toner cartridges last only a few days.
No wonder few students were pleased when
USITE announced in September that by the academic year’s
end printing in its labs will no longer be free. The USITE/
Regenstein lab had already begun charging ten cents per
page in September 2001. This past summer resident-hall administrators
also decided to charge for printing at a rate of six cents
per page—though each resident receives an annual $18
“Like the residence halls, USITE
labs have seen an exponential increase in the number of
pages printed over the last four years,” Emily Baker,
assistant director for learning environments in Networking
Services & Information Technologies, recently told the
Chicago Maroon. “Given budget constraints,
we can’t continue to provide free printing.”
The rise in printing can be traced in
part to the increased number of professors who place assigned
readings on electronic reserve as portable document files
(PDF). About one-third of reserves are available online.
Now the photocopy machines formerly used to duplicate articles
sit idle while the printers overheat. For students the transition
from photocopies to PDFs means saving money—printing
for free in the computer lab instead of paying 10 to 15
cents per copy at the library. For USITE, however, electronic
reserves—along with “junk prints,” including
“frivolous nonacademic Web content,” Baker told
the Maroon—are breaking the budget.
Chicago is not alone. Universities nationwide
are searching for budget-trimming options, and many have
found printing costs an easy target. The October 4 Chronicle
of Higher Education noted that about one-third of all
paper printed on campuses is wasted—thrown away immediately
or never picked up off the printer.
The impending USITE change has met with
varying responses from students. “I can see why they
would do it, but it doesn’t mean I’m happy with
it,” says first-year graduate student Besheer Mohamed.
By early January USITE had not
yet defined its policy for the Crerar and Harper clusters,
so at least for now, the printers there still hum along
for free. A Maroon staff editorial has asked, “What’s
the alternative? Printing costs money.” The big question
remaining for students is, how much?
—Evan Haglund, ’03