Tech Fees on Deck

BY ALEXA CHERRY
For the UAS Whalesong
A short while ago, someone from the University of Alaska Fairbanks contacted the Whalesong office with a fairly specific request for research. In their E-mail, they stated “At its establishment in 1997, the Board of Regents stipulated that ‘each chancellor, director or president will ensure that student representatives participate in the decision-making process related to the use of the revenue at each campus.’” They continued on to say that “a reallocation of the fee occurred at UAF last year, diverting 85% of the collected funds to OIT and the campus library, with only 15% remaining for allocation to projects and departments with student input.” The question they had was  whether or not anything like this was also happening at UAS, and asked if I would make an inquiry with the regional Teaching, Learning, and Technology Roundtable (TLTR) about the use of the    technology fee on Southeast campuses and who decides on those uses.
That’s a lot of information to take in at once, and at first I wasn’t sure where to start looking for an answer. Fortunately, I did have access to the E-mails of everyone on the regional TLTR, so I contacted them all – and, to my surprise, I got an E-mail back from the one person I hadn’t contacted, Vice Chancellor Michael Ciri! He informed me that he was the “resident expert and historian” on the UAS tech fee, and asked if I would be interested in meeting to talk about it. Of course I was, so we set up a meeting to do so. I think my words to a fellow Whalesong reporter as I was going into the meeting were something like “I don’t expect this to take an hour;” I must have jinxed myself, because I did emerge an hour later, but it was worth it. While I’m not sure that I gained the specific answer to the specific question that our contact at UAF was interested in, I did glean quite a lot of interesting information about the application and history of the technology fee here at UAS that I thought other students might be interested in – so settle in, it’s time to learn some things.
The tech fee here at UAS was created for three main reasons. The first was to replace general student-use computers on campus; this was more prevalent when computers were a fairly new thing and each new operating system made enormous leaps and bounds in software compatibility. Now it’s used for general-use student tech equipment on campus, since if there’s a broadly-based student fee that is applied to everyone, it should only be used to purchase and replace equipment that the majority of the student population can use (as opposed to, for instance, a specialized piece of equipment in the Anderson building that only has one purpose that students may or may not ever get to use). The second reason the tech fee was created was to fund one of the three positions at the IT Helpdesk on campus. This ensures that at least one person will always be on staff to help out students and faculty with their IT problems. And finally, reason number three was to fund full-text databases in the library. There used to be a fourth reason; in the past, there was usually some money left over after funding all of the above, and that money was set aside as a sort of grant that could be applied for through the TLTR for the funding of “special projects.” However, as time and the advancement of technology marched on, that money quickly dried up, and now the tech fee only funds the previously mentioned three primary reasons.
Ciri did mention that the one thing that has changed in recent years with the IT department and tech fee is that the university has migrated away from desktop computers and towards “virtual computers.” Having no idea what a virtual computer is (was it like Tron??), I pursued this line of inquiry and was startled to learn that a large part of my campus experience has been a lie. Not a bad lie – just the sort of lie where you thought one thing because it was presented to you that way, and then it turned out to be something different altogether. You know how when we go to log in on computers at the library, it makes us put in our username and password and then choose whether we want “academic” or “scientific?” None of us have ever questioned this. Perhaps none of us ever thought to. I mean, I guess maybe you thought to. Maybe you questioned it. But I never had, and so if you were in the same boat as me, prepare to have your horizons widened – kind of like the Death Star, UAS’s computers are all just empty shells hooked up to a single central virtual hard-drive. When you log on, you’re in the system. When you choose academic or scientific, the system chooses which software you get to access. That way, the university can buy computer towers and laptops and use them for years as long as they still connect to the virtual computer, rather than having to constantly maintain and replace and discard hundreds of individual computers. Not only is this helpful to the environment, since it means UAS isn’t throwing tons of computers into the landfill anymore, but it also solves the mystery of how our school was able to afford all these classroom flatscreen TVs that are bigger than half of my apartment. And, as an interesting aside, UAS is the first and currently the only school in the UA system that has gone almost completely virtual with its computer system!
Finally, I asked Michael Ciri about the quote from the Board of Regents that our UAF contact had sent us. A few minutes of searching dug up the quote where it was located in the 1997 Board of Regents meeting minutes (to which I have included the link at the end of this article, if you’re interested in looking them up yourselves). Again, in relation to the technology fee, it states the following: “Each chancellor, director or president will ensure that student representatives participate in the decision-making process related to the use of the revenue at each campus.” Vice Chancellor Ciri explained to me that while he had not been specifically asking students for their opinion regarding the use of the technology fee, he would love to have student representatives on the TLTR. It’s not so much a matter of UAS officials breaking the rule set out by the Board of Regents 18 years ago, as it is a matter of lack of student interest. Ciri stressed to me the importance of student involvement in campus issues, and suggested that if any student reads this article and wants to talk further about it, they should contact him – or Student Government, if you’re just interested in getting involved in campus life and politics on a deeper level in general. I find that UAS and the people who are in charge of its various departments are pretty easy to talk to and get a hold of, so don’t be afraid to reach out! If you make a big enough impact, they might even be the ones reaching out to you.
In closing, Michael Ciri did say something that stuck with me. I felt it was particularly interesting and relevant to my target audience, so I’ll leave you with this quote (which is really more like a paraphrase, but I’ve done what I can):
“I find that students tend to discover only in the last year or so that they’re here that they are the ones who run the university.”
Chew on that, kids! Chew on that.
Here is the link to the 1997 Board of Regents meeting minutes, in which the Tech Fee was first instituted:
https://www.alaska.edu/bor/minutes/1997/04-18-97summary/

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