Printing problem on campus

| Staff Columnist

Even in the short time that I have been at Wash. U., I can barely count the times that I have been late to a class because I have been unable to print something important. The problems I have faced range from the printer in my dorm’s computer room running out of paper and toner, to a wireless connection not working, to not being permitted to print at Eads Hall because I am an engineering student and NOT an ArtSci student. I have heard countless similar stories from friends who also were unable to, or delayed when printing important assignments. Frankly, this is simply outrageous. As one of the world’s top universities, Wash. U. should provide its students with easy access to the resources they need. Today, with more and more information available exclusively online, the ability to print documents is as essential to most students as a pencil, a backpack or a calculator. I would also contend that there are much better things our bright student body could be doing than struggling with printers in a way reminiscent of the fax machine in “Office Space.”

I see two possible ways for Wash. U. to solve its printing problem. The first is to require, or at least strongly recommend that students buy a personal printer. Inkjet printers today are very cheap, one can get a high-quality printer for less than $50. Of course much of the cost of owning such a printer comes from the cost of ink cartridges, although recently, services have sprung up that allow you to refill cartridges for a fraction of the cost of a new one. Considering what books, laptops and other essential schools supplies cost, I don’t think it would be outrageous to expect students to buy a printer. What is necessary is better information regarding the issue. If perhaps I were informed before the semester that printing on campus can be difficult, I might have brought my printer from home instead of relying on public printers. Unfortunately, I left my printer at home, and am left to struggle with the over-taxed and poorly-maintained machines that exist on campus.

An alternative to asking students to provide their own printer would be to provide easy access to printing across campus. Currently, this is far from true. Printing in the library is a pain, as one must sign into a computer (about a five minute ordeal), print their document, and then go to a print release station to print the document. Besides the library, other printing options on campus are scarce. Some dorms have computer labs, but because these printers are free, they are over-used, and thus are often broken, or out of either paper or ink. As any engineering student well knows, the Center for Engineering Computing (CEC) has only three extraordinarily outdated and overworked printers designed to handle the printing loads of more than 100 computers. In fact, during busy times, the CEC’s hallway smells of burning plastic and printer toner as the printers print nonstop as they struggle to meet the demand. Dozens of people then crowd around the printers to find their documents, and papers get lost and stepped on. Instead of the hodgepodge of printing options currently available, the University should provide one system that allows fast and easy printing across campus. This should mean that no log-in is necessary to print, that there are enough printers to meet demand and that the printers are not often out of paper or toner. Of course implementing such a system would be costly, but I am confident that the few thousand dollars it would cost would be well worth the frustration it would save students.

Although five or 10 minutes to wait for printing here and there is a small nuisance, those minutes add up. Also, a broken printer at the wrong time can spell doom for a student with an impending deadline. The system as it stands is simply unacceptable. The two solutions I have outlined both address the current system’s problems. Both have drawbacks, but the University should at least begin fixing what is a major problem on campus.

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