At the bottom of the stairs, just outside the doors to USITE/Crerar, written in blue ink on a large dry erase board, there is a message that reads, "Attention: Printing is still free until a bug is fixed, but only temporarily. Thank you."
As of Thursday afternoon, the sign was still present and students were taking advantage of the waning hours during which printing at the University of Chicago would be free.
Last quarter Networking Services and Information Technology (NSIT) announced that it would begin charging students six cents per page for printing, after 35 complimentary pages, starting the first day of winter quarter. Because of technical complications, NSIT has not yet begun charging.
Leigha Dillman, a Computer Assistant at USITE/Crerar, looked up from her desk at the entrance to the computer cluster yesterday at 1:30 p.m., straining her ears, and seemed as though she had found some respite from constant noise of students printing. "Listen," she told her fellow Computer Assistants. "I think the printers have stopped."
For a moment, all three computer assistants sitting behind the desk were quiet, listening. Then came the dull click and peel of the paper as it made its way onto the tray. Dillman was wrong: the printer near the computer assistants had briefly stopped, but the one at the other end of the room was still going.
Vikas Wadhua, a computer assistant who works with Dillman at USITE/Crerar, said he has never seen as much printer use as he has seen over the last few days.
"Most people come in and print their stuff out over the course of the first week," Wadhua said. "Now they are compressing all that printing into one or two days because it's still free."
Cori Siering, a fourth-year in the College, was able to print out all of her political science readings in the first two days of the week. "It was crazy. There were people everywhere," Siering said. "What really bothered me were the people who printed hundreds of pages straight. People should have more courtesy."
Dillman reports that there were more than a few caustic words exchanged as students scrambled to get their printing done.
According to Wadhua, Wednesday was the worst. "There were lines of people five to seven deep from noon to 7," he said.
Both Wadhua and Dillman said that by Friday NSIT may have fixed the system and printing use will slow down.
NSIT was forced to delay charging for printing because there was a problem with counting pages that are two sided.
"We expect that in order to minimize the amount of money they spend printing some students will choose to print their documents in a two pages per printed sheet format," said Emily Baker, Director of Learning Environments for NSIT Academic Technologies. "We must be confident in the accuracy of the page count for 2-up documents before we can start charging. As soon as the fix is available, we will test it, and announce the date when charging will begin."
Baker said she was aware that students are taking advantage of the current glitch, and expects that printing volume will drop substantially after NSIT begins charging. She was quick to add that the volume of printing over the last few days has cost the University about $5,000 a day, which means about 230,000 sheets of paper every 24 hours.
"That's a lot of trees," Baker said.
Reactions to the implementation of charges for printing at the University have been mixed. Allen Sanderson, a senior lecturer in the Department of Economics, said that charging students per page is generally a good idea. He said that treating printing as a free good was similar to eating at an all-you-can-eat restaurant: students are only going to stop when they get sick of it, but in the meantime, it's going to be expensive.
"Somebody is going to have to pay whether it's students in general or the one student who prints 50,000 pages," Sanderson said.
Sanderson said that he always tries to be sensitive to his student's costs and that he will take the new six-cents-per-page charge into account when assigning reading.
Katie Hendy, one of the many students printing out materials at Crerar on Thursday, expressed an opinion that contrasted with Sanderson's. "We pay a lot to go to this University. We should get to print for free," Hendy said.
Baker, responding to arguments like Hendy's, said: "Our only goal is to bring spending back in line with our budget allocation for printing."
NSIT has far exceeded its printing budget in the past, and the University will not allow them to overspend in the future.
NSIT hopes the new printing policy will allow it to meet its 60,000 dollar budget for the year, and stresses that the University is charging the lowest possible price per page that will allow them to keep the printing budget in balance.
Printing was still free at Crerar at 4:15 p.m. on Thrusday. Katie Hendy finished her printing. She got out about 300 pages without paying a dime.