A quarter of Ohio State’s College of Arts and Sciences faculty and staff were scheduled to receive new computers this academic year, but when the nearly $500,000 funding was cut, some programs were left scrambling.
The college paused its annual Computer Refresh Program, which grants funding to replace 25 percent of full-time faculty and staff members’ computers each year, for the 2014 fiscal year in September.
The program had created a four-year refresh cycle for the faculty and staff in each of its departments and schools by providing a yearly financial allocation. With the program paused, that cycle has been pushed back a year.
“The decision to pause the program was necessary to address two critical needs,” said John Nisbet, chief administrative officer in the College of Arts and Sciences, in an email to The Lantern.
Those critical needs, Nisbet said, were a “major firewall refresh” budgeted at $200,000, and a budget of approximately $204,000 to cover the cost of OSU’s agreements with Microsoft, Adobe and Box.
The Computer Refresh Program, which has been run three times since it was established for the 2011 fiscal year, has been funded at $480,000 annually, Nisbet said.
In lieu of the program, Nisbet said OSU has set aside funds to respond to “emergency refresh requests,” which are to provide new computers to faculty or staff members who have computers “so outdated it prevent(s) someone from doing their work.”
Nisbet did not confirm whether the program will resume for the 2015 fiscal year, but said that is the college’s goal.
Dave Alden, senior systems manager for the college’s Department of Mathematics, said the pause of the program forced his department to make cuts in other areas of its budget.
“There was no way I was willing to not refresh computers this year, because that just puts crappy computers on faculty and staff’s desktops for the next four years,” Alden said. “If you don’t buy them this year, then everybody ends up with a 5-year-old computer over the next three or four years.”
Making those budget cuts was difficult, Alden said, in part because the department did not know until September it would not receive the program funding, which he said was “about $22,000” for his department.
“We were given very little time to figure out where to cut,” Alden said.
The 2013 fiscal year allocation for each department was found by multiplying one-fourth of each department’s staff by a weighted cost of $1,100, calculated from the average market price of Dell and Mac desktop computers. Departments had the choice of using the funds to purchase PC or Mac desktops or laptops, according to the program’s overview flyer for the 2013 fiscal year.
Brent Curtiss, computing systems manager for the college’s School of Earth Sciences, however, said the impact of the program pause should be “pretty minimal” as long as the pause only lasts one year.
“Computers last a long time,” Curtiss said. “We can easily handle a year off without a real noticeable impact. Probably you could handle two years, but beyond that it would be, we’d be back to where we were before (the program started). We were getting by but then we had — it was a little tougher to get them a machine.”
The refresh program was developed in 2010, Nisbet said, to address the “difficulty and cost of supporting outdated or non-standard computing equipment” and to ensure all full-time faculty and staff would be able to receive updated computers every four years.
Curtiss said the program allowed the school to use its money more efficiently.
“It took a burden off our budget for buying computers for faculty and staff,” Curtiss said. “I think it really helps us to be more efficient with the money and with the equipment that’s in place.”