Costs cause computer lab cuts

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March 27, 2009

4:21 AM

The University of Virginia’s Division of Information Technology and Communication recently announced that it will close all public computer labs by 2011 in an effort to reduce spendings.

U.Va. has been forced to make the cut due to the adverse budget climate brought about by the recession. Around 90 students are currently employed at ITC help desks, which are open during weekday business hours. Once the labs are closed, the students will number 30.

Michael McPherson, associate vice president and deputy chief information officer, argued that the labs were largely irrelevant due to the high rate of laptop ownership at the university. Almost 99 percent of undergraduates at U.Va. have laptops. The main asset of the labs is their convenience, according to McPherson, who noted that certain specialized software available on lab computers would no longer be accessible to students.

To make up for the loss of labs, ITC is considering implementing virtual desktops that would allow students to use specialized software from on-campus locations. They are also exploring acquiring a site license that would allow students to download software directly to their machines.

The technical assistance provided by students will be replaced by a firm that will provide full-time service. McPherson argued that there would be some positive results from the switchover.

“The outside service would provide a new level of formality and documentation,” he said.

While this service would cost roughly the same amount as what is currently budgeted for the help-desk, McPherson believes that it would save money in the long run since it will also be responsible for the new Student Information System and the University Integrated System.

The labs will be closed a few at a time over the course of two years. The labs in the residence halls and in Small and Ruffner Halls will close this year. The computer lab in the chemistry building will close in 2010, with the remaining labs in Thornton and Bryan Halls and Clemons Library closing in 2011. Until a viable alternative is found, the Brown Library lab, which provides access to specialized software, will remain open.

McPherson hopes that the space formerly occupied by the labs will be used by the various schools of the college to provide monitors, scanners and printers for student use.

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