Computers may be required soon

by Peter Kauffner

Under current administration plans, the University will require every student to purchase a portable computer starting in 1999.
Such a policy has been in effect on the Crookston campus for several years. Students there are required to purchase an IBM Thinkpad computer. But unlike Crookston, the Twin Cities campus is likely to be more flexible with respect to the type of computer students are required to purchase.
“The way I see it going right now, is there would be a range of options. The unifying thing would be access to the Internet and the Web. But there wouldn’t be just one thing that all students would have to have,” said Marvin Marshak, vice president for academic affairs.
But not all students expect to find such a computer useful. “I haven’t had room for a computer in my room, so I’m lost,” said Helen Phin, president of the Minnesota Student Association.
The low-end computer would be something equivalent to Sony’s newly released Web TV computer, which now retails for about $350. The product uses a television screen in place of a conventional computer monitor.
Marshak used a personal example to illustrate the unexpected ways in which students can use computer technology to their advantage.
“My wife and I always read our kids’ papers before they hand them in. When our daughter went away to college, she continued to send us her papers to us by e-mail. She would call us at 2 o’clock in the morning and say, I just finished my paper. Would you please read it, edit it and send it back to me, because I need it for a class at 8 o’clock,'” Marshak said.
Crookston required its students to lease their computers from IBM for several years, but students must now purchase their PCs. “(Under leasing, Crookston students) would get a computer for $1,750 at the beginning of the year, and would get back only $600 at the end of the year,” said Shih-Pau Yen, deputy director of distributed computing services for the Twin Cities campus.
“We considered leasing computers (on the Twin Cities campus) a long time ago, but found that it was almost as much money as buying a computer,” Yen added.
While leasing computers may get a thumbs-down from University administrators, it is a growing trend nationally.
Last June, Apple Computer, Compaq and IBM began offering new leasing programs directed at colleges and universities. About 10 percent of colleges now lease computer hardware of various kinds, according to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
But while leasing may make sense for a private company, Marshak is not convinced that it is appropriate for the University.
“When you lease equipment, essentially what you are doing is borrowing money. Because the University is tax-exempt and because our credit is very good, we can borrow money or obtain capital more cheaply than a private company can,” Marshak said.