By Calder Phillips-Grafflin
Computers and the internet have revolutionized the ways we communicate, share, live, and yes, learn. Information technology is one of the most important parts of our campus, and it is precisely because of this importance that we must address something that everyone here knows: ITS must improve. When I say “improve,” I don’t just mean an increase in our download speeds. Sure, that is a very important part of the problem, but the issue here is also the relationship between ITS and the campus community. In short, the problems with ITS fall into two categories: the two ‘C’s of connection and communication.
Connection: Perhaps most important for students on campus is a reliable and fast internet connection. It is a rare occurrence to get a sustained internet connection above 1 mbps, and far more common to find one’s connection below 500 kbps. In comparison, the federal minimum for what can be considered “broadband” is set at 4 mbps. Perhaps if we were some little college in the middle of nowhere, this might be acceptable, but we are not. Instead, we are one of the top ten most expensive colleges in the country and in the middle of Tech Valley with GE next door! For the more than 50 thousand dollars we pay to go here each year, it is not unreasonable to expect better connectivity than could be had from Verizon for the princely yearly total of 480 dollars. In other words, less than one percent of our annual fee could cover a 7 mbps connection.
Communication: In short, ITS needs to talk to students more and engage them in IT development on campus. Let us think about what could be: a constructive, cooperative relationship between ITS, the faculty and students that provides a better IT experience inside the classroom and out. It wouldn’t be too hard to start a relationship like this: how about monthly meetings open to students and a transparent student-ITS-faculty committee? More importantly, this is something that needs to be done immediately, lest one of the greatest resources on campus go to waste.
ITS is about to take on one of the greatest responsibilities that it has ever held: maintaining and managing access to the new campus cluster. It has been public knowledge that some sort of “high-performance” computing system was going to accompany the construction of the Wold building ever since the first plans were put on display, yet not once in the past two years has ITS ever engaged with the entire campus community about the project. After all, the purpose of the project, in John Kelley’s vision, is to bring advanced computing to liberal arts disciplines. That means engaging with students and faculty to develop projects and research that will use the system. It doesn’t mean waiting until the system is in place and ready to go and then quietly telling everyone. For a college that heavily promotes undergraduate research, it is indefensible to keep one of the greatest research tools a secret from the very people who should be using it.
Do not underestimate the magnitude of the change that needs to happen in ITS. It will not be easy to change the student-ITS dynamic, and it will take time. The responsibility for this change doesn’t fall solely on ITS’ shoulders; we as students must participate and do our part, too. For this to happen, though, change must start from the top, and it must happen soon. If we, the campus community, want to continue to grow and improve our college, then this is a change we must make.