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2012 Fall Issue 5 (October 19, 2012)

New Info Surfaces About PaperCut

October 19, 2012
By J.M. Hanley

Though aspects of Carleton’s controversial new printing policy remain shrouded in mystery, newly surfaced information answers some of students’ most pressing questions about the origins and goals of the program.

An investigation by The Carletonian has shed light on the genesis of the quota and the reasons behind it, as well as the methodology used to set the printing cap of thirty-two dollars.

The origins of the new policy lie in conversations between the College Dean’s office, Facilities Management, and ITS, according to Fernán Jaramillo, the associate dean of the college and professor of biology. While the college considered the environmental impact of increased printing, limiting costs was equally important.

“As students are beginning to realize, printing can be costly,” Jaramillo said, adding that “In addition, printing has significant environmental consequences.”

Sam Patterson, Professor of Mathematics and interim Director of ITS, cited the priorities behind the quota in the same order.

“Printing isn’t free; it does get paid for, and it’s the college’s money” he said, “and another part of it is the responsible use of resources.”

The changes grew from discussions amongst a number of departments and the administration. ITS was given the responsibility for calculating the quota and enacting it. Implementation began last spring and was completed late this summer.

Administrators were concerned about the trends behind the increased printing costs, according to Austin Robinson-Coolidge, the Computing Support Services Manager in ITS.

While only about 12 percent of the student body was printing more than 2400 sides per year, the average amount by which that 12 percent exceeded 2400 was steadily increasing.

“We looked at the last four years’ worth of data and wanted to find an area that would cut off the people printing excess amounts, which were going up every year,” he explained.
In 2011-2012, according to a list of statistics given out by ITS, that 12% of students accounted for 35% of total student printing.

Contrary to popular belief, the implementation was unrelated to the installation of PaperCut (and vice-versa). According to Robinson-Coolidge, GoPrint, PaperCut’s predecessor, was also capable of maintaining a declining-balance account.

“Those are two things that happened and they aren’t necessarily directly linked,”he said, “It’s coincidental, not causal, that PaperCut and the quota happened at the same time.”

ITS began preparing to install PaperCut nearly a year ago. Implementation of the quota began last April.

“I got involved in the quota stuff in May, maybe late April, last year,” said Robinson-Coolidge, who received word of the new policy only after the administration had decided upon it. When queried about how definite the idea was when it was communicated to him, he added “It was ‘we’re planning on having a quota next year.’”
According to CSA president Michael McClellan ’13, student government was informed of the quota two weeks later. However, when the CSA was told, he says, members were under the impression that it was merely a possibility and that the decision was theirs to make.

“Eighth week last spring, the former director of ITS, Joel Cooper, and a 2012 graduate came forward to a CSA senate meeting,” McClellan said, “They already had the software picked out and were asking for approval.”
According to McClellan, the CSA asked for time to review the proposed policy. Many members had reservations, he explained, but did not communicate these to ITS before the end of the school year.

“In that room, we felt we needed more information before we started deliberating. Questions that I had were about what would happen if students couldn’t afford the printing that they needed, about what sort of process there would be to prevent that,” he said, “However, it was eighth week and quite busy. In those two weeks between when we learned about the quota and when the term ended our opinions weren’t solidified.”

According to Patterson and Robinson-Coolidge, calculating the printing quota first involved analyzing student printing habits based on information from GoPrint, which tracked but did not charge for student printing.
Data were collected from printers in the CMC, the library, the LDC, the Weitz Center, Upper Sayles, Willis 119, Mudd 169, the Writing Center, Cassat Hall, and the math and computer science labs.

Printers in faculty department offices were not included in the data collection. However, Robinson-Coolidge explained, even if all printing done at those departments was done by students and none by faculty – given that the software calculating the total was unable to distinguish between faculty and student print jobs on the departmental lab printer, or between pages printed by the departmental lab printer and printers in individual faculty offices – the statistical changes would have been negligible.

“If we included all of that printing into the numbers we use for the calculations, even though we know that some percentage of it was done by the faculty and staff in those departments, it changes the 12% of students who would have exceeded the quota to 18% of students who would have exceeded the quota,” he said, “Any way you slice it, though, it doesn’t move the number very far.”

In addition to its own GoPrint data, ITS researched the printing policies of its peer colleges. According to Robinson-Coolidge, approximately one third of those institutions have quotas, one third are considering them, and one third have none.

Based on a sampling of some of the schools with quotas given in a flier distributed by ITS, Carleton’s printing limits amongst that one third are generous.

However, a number of its peers have instituted “sliding scales” in which upperclass students have a bigger printing quota than those in the years below them, presumably to handle an increased need for printing.
Carleton did not implement such a quota, said Robinson-Coolidge, because the technological hassles of such an approach were substantial.

“Because of the way the systems work, it’s not always clear to say this person is a senior, or this person is a junior, and so on,” he explained, “Given sufficient time energy and money, it could be done, but it wasn’t clear that the amount of those which we would have to throw at it would be worthwhile.”

Nevertheless, according to Patterson, a sliding scale is a possibility for the future.

As for the school’s pricing, Robinson-Coolidge said, it reflects approximately what Carleton itself pays per side for toner and printer maintenance. Despite the stated environmental objectives of the policy, the cost of paper is not factored into the charges to students.

According to Jaramillo, professors have not been informed at length about the policy. However, he did not preclude communicating more extensively with faculty about the policy in the future.

“There are about five students for every professor, and students print a great deal, so it makes some sense to begin to address the issue of printing and printing waste with students.

“That said, I would like to see everyone working to limit printing, and this may call for requesting less printing in class,” he said, “We have taken some preliminary steps to work with the faculty on the printing issue, and will continue to do so.”

As far as aid is concerned, he continued, additional printing must be a genuine necessity for the school to waive the quota.

“The word ‘must’ can mean different things,” he explained, “A student with a well demonstrated learning disability is incapable of working with digital text. He or she must print, and presumably cannot afford the charges. ITS and my office will be glad to work to address this student’s needs.

“A student has a strong preference for printing over digital text and feels he/she must print everything [is another case]. The policy provides an incentive to modify his or her behavior. However, if a student feels it is worth 4 cents a copy to use the printed page, we give them that opportunity.”

Data released over the midterm break show that most Carleton students are, for now, unaffected by the changes. About 93% have more than half of their original quota remaining, including the one-time addition of four dollars to accounts.  About 77% of students still have more than 70% of their original balance when the additional 100 sides are factored in.

Robinson-Coolidge offered a vigorous defense of the quota system.

“We had extensive conversations about striking balance between people who are printing excessive amounts and people who are just trying to do their work,” he said, “Any other discussion would have been purely anecdotal.”

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