Unplugged and Under the Radar

In Fall 2009, when the Board of Regents approved a 32-percent fee increase, students rioted. When they approved another for the wealthiest students last fall, students rioted. And when a UCSD-specific campus technology fee was proposed at the end of last quarter, students were little more than confused.

Jeff Henry, Director of Academic Computing and Media Services, proposed a quarterly per-unit fee for maintaining and updating on-campus technology in December, though there still remain more questions than answers.

Henry explained that UCSD needs $1.1 million in startup funds and another $4 million per year to maintain technology on campus. Right now, the university has been footing the bill for all our technological needs.

The confusion begins within the ACMS department. While Henry’s proposed fee will charge students $5 per unit each quarter with a cap at 15 units (or $80 per quarter), Associate  Director of ACMS Christine Bagwell said the fee will be $4 per unit. The difference between the two proposals is approximately $1.3 million, so it’s more than a little important to get these facts straightened out.

If the tech fee passes, ours will be the first flagship UC campus to impose a fee of this kind.

The per-unit proposal also presents another campus first; no other fee is determined by a student’s course load. The assumption here is that a student taking more units will be a bigger drain on university resources, though not all classes, of course, use technologies equally.

Then there’s the issue of calculation. With Henry’s math, supposing that the 23,746 undergrads each take four classes a quarter, each student would generate $80 for the technology fee, translating to about $5.3 million per year. Even if every student only took three classes, the fee would still generate $300,000 more than what is reportedly needed to maintain campus technologies.

According to Bagwell, if the college councils don’t pass the technology fee, we are in for a world of hypotheticals. We could “suffer from a diminished experience in the classroom.” We might lose out more course reserves online. It’s possible that there will be fewer podcasts in the future.

Miscommunication, poor math and hypothetical scenarios aside, adding a tech fee should be at the bottom of our priorities. On a campus being forced to accept furlough days, staff reductions, layoffs and fewer classes, the last thing we should be trying to fund is keeping up with the latest and greatest technology trends.

While some college council members voting on the proposal fee may have the luxury of paying an additional $240 per year for better WiFi, for others it could contribute to the choice between a UC school and a CSU campus.

We need to be looking at the big picture when it comes to where we ask students to put their money. A podcast isn’t much of a sacrifice in the name of accessibility because with every step we move away from accessibility, we move further and further away from the UC Master Plan’s ultimate goal for universal access to higher education.

A student-financed technology fund might be a workable proposal at another time, but with increasing budget cuts and tuition hikes, it’s just another instance of administrative tone-deafness to student needs.

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