SGA outlines plan to involve students in proposed IT fee process

By Stuart Foster

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)
(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

The Student Government Association has recently taken steps to address a proposed Information Technology fee targeted at upgrading the campus network.

President Sïonan Barrett released a statement regarding the fee Wednesday on her official Facebook page. She acknowledged that upgrading the campus network is a necessity, but cautioned against unnecessary increase of student fees.

In her statement, Barrett instead outlined the creation of a Commission on Student Fees, which is a project within the SGA Senate that will research how fees are created and removed, and attempt to give the student body more control over undergraduate fees.

Currently, the proposed $250 annual fee would go toward modernizing the campus network, which many students found unreliable this year. According to the IT website, the help desk received over 3,000 networking-related calls during the Fall 2014 semester. The website also stated the campus network experiences an average of 40,000 wireless connections daily.

Barrett’s statement, which followed an IT department newsletter sent to all University of Massachusetts undergraduate students introducing the potential fee, said that she has “many concerns about the overall increasing cost of fees.” She also emphasized, however, that “networking issues and urgent security risks” make the IT fee necessary.

It’s estimated that overhauling wireless accessibility throughout campus will cost $85 million, according to the IT department. As of now, $31.5 million has already been paid – the majority of which comes from a $30 million commitment by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy via a capital fund to improve the wireless network’s core, per Barrett’s statement.

Barrett wrote that the SGA will continually call on Subbaswamy “to put forward additional capital investment toward improving network connectivity,” adding that the responsibility of paying for these upgrades should not be entirely on students, as faculty and administrators will also benefit from them.

Julie Buehler, the vice chancellor of Information Services and Strategy, said in an April interview with the Daily Collegian that UMass targeted a goal of fundraising $64 million toward the network overhaul, but it’s likely that any remaining cost would fall to student fees. Buehler emphasized her desire to bring different members of UMass together to guide the upgrading process.

In Barrett’s statement, Buehler is quoted as saying “most of (the fee) is going to be spent on fixing networking problems.” She also requested the SGA work with the IT department to determine a priority order of campus buildings to modernize.

Buehler also shared a list of other campuses in the UMass system and other similarly sized campuses, such as Iowa State University and the University of Maryland College Park, all of which had some form of IT fee.

As part of the SGA’s plan, Secretary of Technology Eric Gendreu will relay information about the Faculty Senate Information and Communication Technology Council Committee’s meetings to the student body. Barrett, Gendreu and Vice President Chantal Lima Barbosa will also “give continuous student feedback” regarding the technology updates to Buehler throughout this summer and the next academic year, according to the statement.

The Board of Trustees will vote on the proposed fee in June. If approved, the fee will be mandatory for all undergraduate students beginning in the Fall 2015 semester.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster