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Computer labs costly, college scales back

The single computer and printer in White Hall residence. (Jade Jones-Hawk)

Despite growing concerns from students about computer access in residence halls, technology services has no plans to increase resources for computer labs, and may in fact be decreasing the number of computers in order to cut costs.

Mills provides three types of housing: residence halls, apartments and specialty housing. Of these only residence halls, and two specialty housing facilities, Ross House and Larson Co-op, have computer labs.

Mills College Housing Managment and Dining Services (HMDS) marketed White Hall, the college’s newest residence hall which opened this fall to students, as having a set up similar to traditional residence halls.

Upon moving in, residents discovered otherwise.

“I was under the impression there would be a computer lab that was similar, if not identical to, the computer labs in the other dorms on campus,” said Anne Cormia, resident of White Hall.

Due to student outcry, Bruce McCreary, the Senior Director of Information Technology Services (ITS), said his department pulled a computer from another residence hall and placed it along with a printer in White Hall.

The Department of Student Life and ITS are spliting the cost of maintaining the computer lab in White Hall, but only through the end of this year.

“By the end of the year it will be pulled” McCreary said.

When Mills hired McCreary in 1994, there were only 2 computers in each residence hall lab. Today, there are 4-8 computers in each residence hall, except for White Hall.

“Over a period of 5 or 6 years we up graded all these labs to larger facilities” McCreary said.

McCreary said that there was never a plan in place to renew or fund these residential computer labs in the future.

“I always made it work until we got the new president and found the $3 million deficit and everybody had to cut back,” McCreary said.

Students voiced their concerns about accessibility of computers in residence halls at the community meeting hosted by the the Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) on Oct. 19. Interim Vice President and Dean of Student Life Kathleen Rice told students at the meeting that while the college did not have explicit plans to reduce current computer labs, new residence halls and those that undergo renovations in the future would lack computers for student use.

“As new halls or renovated [residence] halls open up, they’re not going to have computer labs,” she said.

ITS will be looking in to the cost of maintaining existing computer labs in residence halls and how students use these facilities. The department hopes to gather this information before room draw in the spring of 2013, when students choose their campus housing for the next academic year.

McCreary said the cost of maintaining a residence computer lab depends on the size of the lab.

Each computer costs Mills around $1,500 and an average residential computer lab has eight computers. McCreary also said that, as a rule, student computers get replaced every 3 years, unless a computer is broken and must be replaced sooner.

The college pays for $2,500 in consumables per residence hall lab. These costs include replacement of printers, setting up and maintianing the wireless network and maintenance of the chairs and tables. This totals up to $7,000 – $8,000 a year to maintain residence computer labs. According to McCreary, these numbers where calculated in response to concerns surrounding the lack of computers in White Hall.

“150,000 pages are printed out of residence computer labs each year,” McCreary said.

ITS hopes to begin conversations with the Division of Student Life about how to reduce the cost of labs.

Quinne Hanrahan, Tech Assistant at Mills College Information Technology Services said she sees both the importance of reducing costs and the student need for residence computer labs.

“There is time, effort and money put into the labs that is an extra step beyond what many colleges provide for students. Mills is the only college I toured that offered free printing and residence hall labs,”  she said.

In regards to student concerns about White Hall, McCreary echoed Rice’s impression.

“For ITS there was never an assumption of installing [a computer lab] in White Hall,” he said.

The cost of maintaining computer labs was discussed in a meeting called by Rice on Nov. 9. In attendence was Rice, McCreary, Monique Butler, Director of Residential Life, Laura Zahnow, manager of Desktop service ITS and Dorothy Calimeris, Director of                           Auxiliary Services.

All parties said they will be working together in a joint proposal to come up with a plan to reduce costs by decreasing the number of computers in redisence hall labs.  There will not be a complete removal of computer labs because of exsisting student usage.

“As a worker, I see that the labs take a lot of work. We are responsible for making sure the labs have paper and we have to maintain the computers and printers — which get a lot of use” Hanrahan said. “I think that sometimes we, myself included, forget that we have a huge privilege by having access to the labs, resources, and free printing.”