An example of the technology that Stony Brook University uses at its printing facilities.
An example of the technology that Stony Brook University uses at its printing facilities.

Tuesday was just like any other Tuesday for this fourth-year political science major studying here at Stony Brook University. I found myself seemingly confined in the Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) building—the home of my department—as I went from class to consecutive class on the seventh floor, taking my one period break in between to do some studying in the lounge. SBS is certainly not a terrible place to be, as it provides almost all of the amenities a student would need: quiet areas to study, accessible outlets for one’s laptop, and a coffee machine in the main lobby. Sadly, the downside of this academic building once again became salient to me on that unseasonably raw spring day. Fifteen minutes before my next class, I had realized I needed to print out a one-page homework assignment, but to do that, I would need to venture to a faraway place on campus. Even though the SBS building has a SINC site, the location denies students consistent and readily available access to a printer.

In doing this, they make that computer lab unavailable to other students who might need to make use of the services that such a site provides, and that—as students—our collective technology fees pay for. As I experienced on that Tuesday, and a countless number of other times during my college career here, I was denied the ability to print my homework assignment for that day in the SBS SINC site because of an ongoing class. As there are absolutely no other options for a student to print in that building, the nearest printers would be located in the Humanities SINC site. However, I quickly learned that this too is a “classroom” and is often “reserved” for lectures. So then the next closest option a political science, economics, anthropology, sociology, history, linguistics, or Africana studies major has is the Melville Library. On a sunny, warm spring day this is not too much of a burden. Yet, most of our time spent on campus is during the frigid and snowy winter months and this long walk can be a painful one on which to endeavor for a one-page print out.

On that Tuesday, I had finally had enough. As a student of political science, my field does not require—meaning that I consequently make little use of—all the technology available on campus that other majors might need and enjoy. However, whenever I need to print out a single page for a class, I should not have to walk a 20-minute return trip in the biting cold to do it. That evening, I decided to type out my grievances in an email and to give the administrators of the SINC sites a student’s perspective on how to remedy this problem.

What I suggested was a simple solution: make accessible, at all times, at least a single printer in every academic building on campus for students to print from. Thanks to new technology this could not only be an easy goal to meet, but (as we live in a time of strained budgets) an inexpensive one as well. In the year 2013, nearly every student has his or her own laptop, and because of the popularity of the “Print From Anywhere” software provided by Stony Brook, a student does not need to use a university computer to print a document. What this means is that the university does not need to invest in building computer labs around printing release stations, which should dramatically decrease the cost of providing this service in other buildings. The creation of ‘printing kiosks,’ where there would just be printers and no computers, could greatly increase printing accessibility to students around campus without taking up much valuable space or many valuable dollars.

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At the very least (and those who are familiar with the layout of the SBS SINC site should agree with me), there absolutely needs to be a printer in the entryway of that location, which already hosts seven computers itself, according to the Division of Information Technology’s (DoIT) website.  Providing an extra printer in this space that already hosts a computing infrastructure would make a printing service available to students at all times. As a result, it would give social science majors the ability to print documents whether or not there is an ongoing class in the SBS SINC site. However, installing another printer in my building of choice is not an acceptable solution to a problem that is endemic at our university. I simply do not find it acceptable for a research university the size of Stony Brook to be experiencing such a dire lack of readily available printers accessible to its students in a number of its academic buildings across campus.

In response to my criticism, I promptly received an email the following day and was kindly thanked for my feedback. I was invited to partake in an advisory board meeting to discuss university computer services that afternoon. What was reviewed I found absolutely fascinating: the university collected around $10.2 million for this current academic year through technology fees, but only about 30 percent of that budget goes to computer labs and printing release stations. Each year, the advisory board estimates, the university spends around $700,000 on printing services alone. However, the majority of that expenditure comes from the purchase of paper and toner, not the cost of printer acquisition. When compared to other technology purchases, maintenance costs, and staffing outlays, the expense of installing a few strategically placed printers would be a drop in the bucket. A problem that DoIT claims to have is finding space to place printers outside of SINC sites; however, I feel that this would be quickly resolved if students pressed them enough to figure it out.

Something I learned of in that meeting, something that is costing students much more than the drop in the bucket of a few printers, are the new computer labs that are being installed in Frey Hall. These labs, housed in what used to be the Old Chemistry Building, are costing students up to $1.5 million. Indeed, the capabilities that will be in these new installations sound impressive; however, they are designed and are targeting students in the fields of science and math. I am not sure how I or anyone else in my field or in related fields would know what this new equipment and software is supposed to do—much less utilize it. Yet the university is spending an extraordinary amount of money to build facilities that are going to disproportionately benefit a segment of the student population. Although it seems that my technology fee is going to subsidize this equipment for biology, chemistry and math majors, I do not mind. However, there should be a priority for the university to make improvements that will benefit the student population as a whole. Providing additional printers in more locations on campus would equally benefit the biology major who needs to print out lecture slides before her class just as much as the political science major who needs to print out an assignment before his.

As I previously mentioned, I am a fourth-year student and this will be my last semester here. The improvements that are made to the technology infrastructure here at Stony Brook University are ones that I will not be able to enjoy. However, I feel that it is very important to bring this issue to people’s attention in the hope that current and future students of the university will one day no longer have to endure this nonsense. A major problem brought to my attention is that students do not give feedback to administrators who consequently do not know how to improve students’ experiences on campus—in this instance, the lack of printer locations. I was surprised to discover that I was the first to bring up this issue, and it is my hope that my voice was loud enough for someone somewhere in Stony Brook to make a change in regard to this. As of this academic year, each full-time student has paid $432 in technology fees, which, over four years, amounts to $1728. I feel that with this considerable amount of money that we contribute to the university over the course of our education, there should be a printer available in a wider variety of convenient locations on campus—at all times.

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If you, as a student of Stony Brook University, find something that you think needs to be changed: SAY SOMETHING! Do not be lethargic, do not be apathetic, and do not be silent. Your college experience is what you make it, and in order to improve your university you need to take the initiative to make that change.

Though while you do that, make sure you also contact the SINC site coordinators and other related administrators and demand that printing be available in every academic building on campus. To some, having this service might seem basic, and to others, it might seem trivial. To you, it will be a convenience that you will be thankful to have spoken out for the next time you leave your homework in your dorm room.

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