‘Free’ University Services


Ok. Breathe. I’m cool now. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this post is basically going to be a rant about all the wonderful free services my university (and presumably many other universities … I can’t confirm that) is proud to offer its students. The most recent of these gracious gifts bestowed upon the student body by the ever-wise governing bodies was a school-wide subscription (partnership) with Ruckus (press release), a legal/licensed p2p download program. Normally this appears to cost $5.99 (USD) per month for an individual subscription to the service (a decent portion of which theoretically pays for the licensing agreements of the intellectual property (music, movies, etc.) available on the network for the given month), so using the press release’s figure, the starting bid for this service would be $305,490 per month, or $2,749,410 per academic year (9 months?). While I don’t doubt that a lower rate is offered to universities, since obviously not every student will use the service, I have no difficulty believing that the powers that be were willing to spend $2 million per year of my money for this. Mind you, this partnership comes alongside an announcement from the university’s Office of IT (OIT) that during the past year illegal music downloads appeared to decline at the University for the first time (Office of the General Counsel – Annual Report 2005 (pdf)). Would someone care to explain the logic behind spending two million dollars on a service that statistics indicate is of declining necessity?

The obvious counter-argument against this specific instance is: But p14nd4, you argue that it’s costing two million dollars, but that’s split up between 51,000 students! It only really costs you $39! Ignoring the larger picture for a moment, while perhaps this single instance is true, that’s still $39 that I would not have otherwise spent on Ruckus, and would very much enjoyed spending on four trips to Perkins, or nine orders of pizza, or 218 cans of Mountain Dew, or a birthday present for someone. I pay the university for an education, not for a download service. While the university may have saved a few dollars off the subscription fees that a handful of students would have paid on their own, it is not their place to do so, and simultaneously force the rest of us into paying for a service we don’t desire.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end with this $39 loss. You have no idea how glad I would be, if $39 was all I lost to paying for ridiculous services through the university. My previous favorite instance of this was the university’s announcement that it has reached an arrangement with Microsoft to offer Windows XP Professional (Upgrade) and Microsoft Office 2003 Professional for free to all students. That’s 51,000 Windows licenses, and 51,000 Office 2003 Professional licenses… Again, I don’t have specifics on how much money the university gave Microsoft for this free service,, but Windows XP Professional OEM sells for $139.95 on Newegg.com, and Office 2k3 Pro runs at $314.95. I’m sure the University paid less than these figures, but since they’re all we have for estimates, that figure (a ceiling, if you will) would run $7,137,450 for Windows, and $16,062,450, for a total of $23,199,900 spent by the university in order to offer this free service.

Anyway, I’m cutting this post short, in favor of getting some work done. If I get ambitious (annoyed) again, I hope to complete this post with some addition related areas I feel deserve some mention. These other topics I hope to cover in a later edit include:

  1. Run-away / use-it-or-lose-it budgets
  2. Get an auditor, dammit!
  3. Eliminate half of the student employment positions
  4. Bottom line: spend on my education (not elite research facilities, not stadiums, not $400 office chairs, not thousands of dollars towards rebranding a building)

4 Responses to “‘Free’ University Services”

  1. joshua Says:

    your site kicks my site’s butt. I wish I had something real to say. I’m just getting started.

  2. Arron Says:

    I agree with you on the spedning issue….its not thier place…but how do you stop it…the student body cant really do much un united…and trust me 70% of the students dont care…which sucks.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    the only negative to this blog is that you neglected the other university of minnesota campuses, so, to be fair, the university spent far more than your figures indicate, which ought to make you even angrier :P

  4. Pete Says:

    You make it sound like the University went out and actively sought these partnerships. It’s more like extortion. You have a RIAA/MPAA supported service that says if you buy their service for the students, they won’t sue the University for their students’ illegal downloading.
    The same case can be said for Microsoft Licensing, it saves the University from receiving a Microsoft ‘audit’ of licensure.

    The exception to this is the U buying a copy of Symantec Anti-Virus for everyone. It’s cheaper to have everyone running anti-virus than to have a couple of people hammering the network with their virus-riddled PC.

    The kicker for me is how a stadium on campus is a good investment in learning, teaching, research, or discovery. I missed that nuance in their mission statement.


Leave a Reply