October 24, 2016

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Tech Support

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This weekend I had the pleasure of participating in Cornell’s second Half Baked collaboration. Half Baked is an event where students come together, share their “half-baked” ideas, and collaborate with one another to “bake” their ideas. I presented on a problem that is no stranger to most Cornellians: what to do when you have tech trouble. I’ve had the misfortune of having my computer break almost every year that I’ve been at Cornell. From these experiences I’ve come to realize the lack of accessible tech support for students on campus.

If your computer breaks your options are limited: find someone in Ithaca, use the Cornell Store to ship out your computer out to get it fixed and send it back or (like I ended up doing) wait until you go home to get it fixed. Coupled with this challenge is that in the interim as you wait for your computer, there are again only a couple options: renting a free extended loan laptop from Uris Library or OADI, or renting a laptop for $90/week from the Cornell Store. None of these options are necessarily practical for most students, there are only 10 laptops you can rent from Uris and a couple at OADI for a campus of 21,000 students, and $90 for one week of computer use is a pretty hefty burden for most students. For those that want to go out and get their computer fixed themselves in Ithaca, you need access to a car.

While Cornell IT has folks who want to help students and directs students to appropriate resources, these resources are not on campus and often take a long time. This past semester when I approached a CIT personnel at the Cornell Store, they actually said that they were not even allowed to open up my computer.

Compared to many of our peer institutions and even locally comparable schools like Ithaca College have more accessible options for students facing tech troubles. Schools like Princeton, MIT, UPenn and Dartmouth have options to get their computers fixed on campus or at a location right next to their campus. Princeton even uses students technology consultants to provide support in residence halls. Ithaca College has a fixIT program that has technicians on campus that can address a range of tech problems.

These options are naturally a little different given that Cornell is in Ithaca not Boston or Philadelphia, but clearly other schools have navigated these hurdles. Options to allow CIT to be able to provide more technical support on campus will come at a cost, but would provide a service that would greatly be appreciated by the Cornellians on this campus. The second layer of the question, what to do in the interim as your computer is broken, is another question to explore. Ten laptops is hardly sufficient for the demand of this campus.

Though on the surface this appears to a be a rather small problem in the grand scheme of challenges the university has to face, for any student facing computer problems this is a serious deterrent from being able to function on campus. As technology becomes a larger part of the academic function of Cornell, having access to a working computer is a requirement for being a Cornell student.

Yamini Bhandari is the undergraduate student-elected trustee. Comments may be sent to associate-editor@cornellsun.com. Trustee Viewpoint appears alternating Tuesdays this semester.

2 thoughts on “TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | Tech Support

  1. The lack of the sort of support you’re asking about can be directly tied to decisions (Ted Dodds, we’re looking at you) made a few years back to cut IT staff to the bone (cost savings, Cornell is broke, usual story…IT staff was reduced by anywhere from 25-40% campus-wide, except at Weill, and other place far more important than the Ithaca campus). Now, what precious few IT staff are left are overwhelmed with responsibilities at the larger, meta-level, not to mention the amount of time they spend helping whining faculty and senior admin who ‘can’t get their email to work’. Most faculty are technologically far less competent than students, and need far more hand-holding. And, given that they’re ‘faculty’, their squeakier wheel gets more grease than ‘lowly undergrads’. It people at Cornell are first-rate. There simply aren’t enough of them.

    On the other hand, the University spent boatloads of money to fix up Schoelkopf field so a few thousand people (<25% of stadium capacity) could watch a lousy football team. But, hey, priorities, right?

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