Web cams can solve University budget woes

The other day, while perusing the University Web site I came across a most remarkable link. When a person clicks on http://www1.umn.edu/twincities/camcentral.html, a whole new opportunity for campus voyeurism opens wide before the viewer’s eyes.

The Web cam central page offers fascinating glimpses into student life, including the lines at Williamson Bookstore and Fraser Hall, as well as construction projects on the Twin Cities campus.

After spending hours and hours looking at the different campus Web cams, I determined two things happen on the University of Minnesota campus: students wait in lines of various lengths and construction workers build new buildings. After contemplating that observation, I decided that waiting in line (for anything) and perpetual new building construction really does sum up the day-to-day experience of a University student. I have trouble determining a more common campus experience than waiting lines and construction. More often than not, the two become intermingled, causing people to wait in line because of construction. That point, however, calls for an entirely different column.

While some silly people might find the presence of unmarked video cameras on campus broadcasting a live signal to the World Wide Web 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, somewhat disturbing, I embrace the technology. In fact, I think the University should go even further implementing campus Web cams to help the budget shortfalls responsible for the recenttuition hikes. By the simple use of a few well-placed Web cams, I am certain the University could make a tidy sum.

To buttress my point on the financial
benefits of Web cam use, I typed the phrase “Web cam” into the Internet search engine Google. After a quick scan of the results, I reassert my position that the University is missing out on some major profit margins. Web cams are used by colleges and universities all over the world. Almost 75 percent of the hits were for “dorm room cams” or “sorority/fraternity cams” or “college coeds on camera.” With the thousands of students, our University has living in the residence halls nine months out of the year, I am certain any budgetary imbalances could be stabilized.

Oddly enough, some students in front of these numerous Web cams at institutions of higher learning can be found lounging on their dorm room beds in various states of undress at all hours of the day. It became apparent, after seeing these images, that some colleges and universities do not assign enough homework for their students. I do not know one University student who lays about all day, doing nothing other than staring at the walls with a blank expression that suggests the phrase “for the money, for the money, for the money.”

At the University, the students are studious, working on their daily assignments until the wee hours of the morning. If the University wired all dorm rooms for camera viewing, parents from all over the world could log on and see just how hard their son/daughter was working. More to the point, University officials could say to outside observers, “Look! Look at how hard our students work until the wee hours of the morning.”

Now I know some school administrators might say putting cameras in University dormitories could lead to abuses and encourage student shenanigans. I believe the best way around that dilemma involves placing Web cams in the president’s office and the Board of Regents meeting room. If the upper University administration is willing to subject our campus to 24-hour viewing, why not their offices? Prospective students from all over the world could click on the “Pres-Cam” to watch President Yudof at work in Morrill Hall. That, dearest readers, is true entertainment.

The other area the University could pioneer with Web cams is the implementation of facial-recognition software on campus. Imagine how the databank of stored U Card photos could operate as a filter, determining whether or not a person belonged on campus. If a person’s face did not match a picture in the data banks, then an elite Web Cam Enforcement Unit could stop the individual and throw the intruder off the Washington Avenue bridge.

A simple facial-recognition software program could also alert students to overdue books and unpaid miscellaneous fees. When a person with an overdue book or unpaid fee walked by a campus cam, the following message would blare forth: “Good Citizens of the University, please bear witness to the scoundrel who walks upon these hallowed grounds. [Name Inserted Here] has three overdue books on nude photography and has not paid a fine issued by the University police for peeping in the neighbor’s windows. Look down upon the offender. Look down.”

Scofflaws all across campus would begin filling the University bank account with thousands of dollars. The patent rights alone to such a system could make millions of dollars. If the facial-recognition software became too expensive to maintain, a simple retinal scan alternative could be developed. Instead of the loudspeaker system, a stick, attached to the base of the camera, could poke any offender in the eye every time he or she walked by a campus cam. Nothing says retribution more efficiently than a poke in the eye.

In conclusion, I want to highlight the Web cam I found most interesting on the Campus Cam Central page. Simple as the camera image sounds, I found the live footage of Lake Itasca most compelling. No matter what time of the day or night I clicked on the link, the image from Lake Itasca was always of a blue sky and sun-flecked trees swaying in the breeze. The image is an impressive feat of environmental engineering considering I first looked at the live-camera footage at 11 pm Monday night. Onward into the brave new world of campuswide Web-cam-living readers – near, far, and betwixt the Internet tomorrow.


John Troyer’s column appears alternate weeks. He welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]