A lot of colleges spend a lot of money on a lot of unnecessary things.
Beginning in January, dorming students at Penn State University will have "free" legal access to Napster v2.0. The 18,000 students will be able to stream 500,000 songs from Napster's collection and download a limited number of songs. Files students choose to download and burn onto a CD will cost $0.99 while the rest of the program is being funded by the students' mandatory $160 technology fee.
The stupidity of this initiative is so obvious I would be shocked if UB didn't adopt a similar one in the near future considering how wisely our money is already spent.
At UB, our technology fee is part of the ever-increasing Comprehensive Fee. We pay $269.75 per semester out of the total $680.50 comprehensive fee to be one of the most wired campuses in the country. Somehow, the line to print something in the library is still 38 hours long. I can see that on TV without leaving my dorm room though, so it's OK.
But for now, back to Pennsylvania: the immediate inequity with Penn State's plan is that while all students pay the technology fee, only residential students will be given access to the program. The service will be expanded next fall to accommodate the other 65,000 students paying for the service. The service will also be offered to faculty, staff and alumni at a discount.
The apparent goal of this project is to prevent students from downloading free songs, which we all know is not going to happen. Penn State is wasting the students' money for a noble cause, but one that also has absolutely nothing to do with education.
So why would UB be willing to waste our money on such nonsense?
Looking at how the rest of the Comprehensive Fee - of which the technology fee is part - is spent, it is not difficult to see that our money is not being put to its best use. The components besides technology are: the college fee ($12.50); Parking & Transportation ($107.50); Health ($80); Campus Life ($34.75) and Intercollegiate Athletic ($176). Beginning next semester, there may be an additional $5 added under the heading "Transcript Fee." This all totals $1,366 per year.
On top of the entire comprehensive fee, we also pay a Mandatory Student Activity fee of $69.75 per semester that goes to the Student Association so we can have the greatest names in music come to UB. Oh, and hotdogs once a month outside the Student Union.
Currently, there are 17,290 undergraduate students at UB. If we allow for those with fee waivers and round the number out to 17,000, UB collects a little over $2.3 million per year to spend on the aforementioned categories of the comprehensive fee.
For this exorbitant amount of money, the students get an array of resources and services whether they're useful or not.
While it's true the buses that cart us all around from Ellicott to the Student Union and to South Campus are paid for by the Comprehensive Fee, so are parking services. What would we have done without that parking survey last year that told us we already had enough parking? Instead we could have stopped avoiding the issue and finally started building the parking ramp that is obviously needed - at the risk of ruining our gorgeous landscape, of course.
Then there's the health fee we all pay so we can trek down to South Campus on the bus and go to the newly handicapped accessible Michael Hall to be diagnosed as having a cold and given Tylenol. I'd rather use the $80 and just buy a lifetime supply without making the trip.
The remainder of the Comprehensive Fee is a mystery to me. There's the "College Fee;" I thought that was tuition. What exactly are we paying an additional $12.50 for? The campus life fee is most likely used in some way that is perceived as boosting the quality of life in our apathetic "univer-city." Maybe the powers that be can use it to buy a clue.
So now that we've been through the expansive list of wonderful ways our money is spent, we can see that the university paying for us to download music, even though it's not their job to care, is not so far-fetched. Let's hope UB and other institutions don't fall into the same trap as Penn State.