OIT cuts student repairs

Officials say the subsidized computer fixes aren’t used, but students have doubts.

by Kristoffer Tigue

If University of Minnesota students need their computers fixed, they’ll soon have to pay full price.

On May 19, the Office of Information Technology will no longer offer discounted computer hardware repairs to students through its Personal Device Repair division. Tech Stop and the support hotline 1-HELP will continue to offer tech support and troubleshooting for software.

While officials cite several reasons for closing the program — like underutilization and a growing number of nearby competitors — the cut has provoked mixed responses from students.

“The [University] bookstore’s got it; the private sector’s got it,” said Vice President and Chief Information Officer Scott Studham. “The University shouldn’t be spending students’ tuition money on offering the same services from multiple locations.”

The decision to cut Personal Device Repair is the second instance in a year that OIT has eliminated a subsidized technology program for students. Last summer, the University stopped offering students a discount on Microsoft Office products because sales had fallen almost 50 percent since 2010.

Associate CIO and Information Technology Director Craig Bantz said the device repair program was “very small.” He said OIT decided to end the service due to decreasing demand and the growing number of nearby businesses that offer similar services.

“There’s kind of a plethora of other services providing this around the campus and even on campus,” he said. “They’ll fix your phone, they’ll fix your game console, they’ll come to your house. We don’t have any expertise in any of those spaces.”

Personal Device Repair isn’t supposed to turn a profit, Bantz said — just break even.

The service has been around in various forms since the mid-1990s and operates on a budget of approximately $150,000, User Support Service Director Donna Edelen said in an email.

For now, the program employs one full-time employee and six students, she said, and on average repairs about 90 devices a month.

While they will no longer be repairing hardware, Edelen said in the email, all seven employees will be offered jobs to continue working in IT support, although she didn’t specify doing what.

“Nobody is being laid off,” Studham said.

The employees will no longer repair hardware, he said, but will instead be assigned different jobs “in user support,” like troubleshooting with students over the phone for 1-HELP.

“We’re trying to meet what the students are asking for,” Studham said. “So the students are asking for more software support, and there’s less asks for hardware support.”

Computer science sophomore Karteek Agarwal said he doesn’t buy that Personal Device Repair has little student demand.

“If you’re telling me that the service is being underutilized, I find that hard to believe,” he said. “I always see some people standing [at Tech Stop] in line. I had to wait 15 minutes just to get served.”

Information Technology senior Adrian Chum worked for Personal Device Repair for about nine months with a dozen other students, he said, before leaving for an internship last month.

He agrees with OIT officials that the service is underutilized, but he said that’s mostly because students don’t know it exists.

“No matter how many suggestions I’ve suggested to my manager about marketing, nothing ever happened,” he said. “How could students know about our service if we never advertise about them?”

Students would often go to a well-known repair service like Geek Squad instead, Chum said, or buy a new computer entirely.

Agarwal said both he and a friend have gone to Tech Stop for hardware issues, and his friend got his laptop fan fixed for only $50. He said ending the service altogether is going to be “a big issue” for students if they’ll need to start getting their repairs from more costly alternatives.

Bantz said it may seem like students are losing out on a discounted service, but it could save them money in the long run because service subsidies like Personal Device Repair could increase tuition and fees.

The University should reduce their operation costs, Agarwal said, but “there’s no point in closing it entirely.”

Chum said he sees it as a rather simple transaction to reduce cost and simplify the departments.

“It’s all business,” he said. “If we don’t profit from our computer repairs, which a lot of the time we didn’t, then why keep the program?”