With perceptiveness for which we’d long ago abandoned hope, LSA announced plans last week to launch a $1.5-million effort aimed at dramatically expanding wireless Internet access on campus. Currently only 20 percent of LSA buildings feature wireless, because the college has been notably behind in the race to cut the Internet cord, even compared to other schools and colleges at the University. Expanding the network to cover all parts of all buildings is more beneficial than most administrators think, but it will be another two years before installation is complete. That tardiness underscores past failures in the University’s implementation of wireless technology.
Students who have tried to access the unreliable network in C.C. Little Science Building or set up digital camp in the Dennison Building only to discover that it does not support wireless access would agree that the lack of wireless hinders their ability to do work. Wireless is not simply a matter of convenience, and it involves more than just being able to access YouTube or Facebook during lectures. Using this technology is an absolute necessity in today’s fast-paced educational experience.
Unfortunately, LSA and the University as a whole have a lot of catching up to do. In Intel’s 2005 survey of wireless access on college campuses, the University did not even make the top 50. That’s unacceptable for a top-tier research institution that prides itself on being on the cutting edge of academics.
While universities like Carnegie Mellon and even Western Michigan have been quick to adopt the technology on a broad scale, LSA in particular failed to make it enough of a priority. The costs, some administrators claimed, would be astronomical. Others pointed out that installing wireless technology is complicated and requires intricate planning.
These factors did not stop the implementation of wireless at the University’s other schools and colleges. The business, law and engineering schools began widespread development of the technology in 2000 and now boast fairly complete coverage. LSA did not begin using wireless technology until a little over two years ago. Clearly, the school’s conservative approach has put it behind the curve. As other universities experiment with innovative technologies like podcasting, one cannot help but wonder where else the University might be falling behind.
Of course, LSA is not entirely to blame. Cuts in state funding made it difficult for the school to install wireless networks and made it practical to wait until it could be implemented at lower cost. The state legislature, which recently cut funding to universities year after year bears the responsibility. The University warned that repeated cuts would hurt the quality of education it could afford to provide. Once again, that became empirically apparent in Intel’s rankings.
Students and faculty have come to expect leading universities to provide wireless access. Incoming students want to be part of an institution that values technology and communication. Improving the wireless network will help to demonstrate the University’s commitment to both. LSA’s new initiative is certainly a positive change. But it’s still not exactly ambitious.