The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Letter to the Editor: A student perspective on student printing

As a student body, we use an excessive amount of paper. However, student printing comprises a small fraction of college printing: last Fall, Bill Francis estimated students print about 2.2 million pages a year at 2.37 cents a page. That comes to a little over $52,000, about 5% of the $1,000,000 college printing and copying budget President Osgood mentioned in his September 15th budget e-mail. But regardless of the cost, we have a responsibility to self-govern our printing.

Thus far, the dialogue has centered around a cost-based printing system. It is clear that many students don’t want to pay to print; it’s also clear that many students want to save resources. While a cost-based system might appear to be the most effective way to save paper, this makes the assumption that our primary concern is saving paper. At an academic institution like Grinnell, this isn’t the case. The merits of reducing our paper consumption must be balanced with other extremely important goals. These goals include ensuring all students, especially those with limited financial resources, are still able to print what’s academically necessary. We’re here to learn; any system that curtails academic inquiry isn’t in line with that primary institutional goal.

Such a balancing act extends beyond values. Practically, the administrative overhead involved in managing a cost-based system – and managing it fairly – is high. How do we resolve the aforementioned financial concerns? How would an appropriate price be set? A price that’s too low provides little disincentive to print, while one that’s unnecessarily high punishes students for simply printing what they need for class. Determining an appropriate print quota presents the same dilemma. Furthermore, students with different majors have different printing needs: a Political Science major might print 200 pages in a week, while a Computer Science major prints none. The system would need to appropriately resolve this dilemma, and do it dynamically as such needs change. And as proposed, a cost-based system would be implemented on only the printers publicly available to students. But there are multiple semi-public, departmental printers to which many students have access. If students have access to a free printer and a cost-based printer, it’s obvious which printer they’ll use. Students outside the department would likely flock to these printers, as well. Many departments don’t have the resources to police the use of these printers; without a cost-based system to manage them, they’d become a freely-available, black-market resource, hurting the department in the process. In such a model, the institutional paper costs wouldn’t drastically decrease; they’d simply be shifted to different lines of the budget.

This list of questions and concerns is not exhaustive or complete. But it highlights the central problem: the administrative effort involved in implementing a smart and fair cost-based system could prove to be exhausting. At the very least, it’s going to be complicated. However, ignoring these issues altogether violates Grinnell’s egalitarian principles. There must be a compromise.
And in fact, there is. The central issue is not cost or budget, but resources. A cost-based system is not a prerequisite for reducing waste; all we need are a few institutional changes and individual solutions.

The institutional changes are the most effective: the smallest technological changes can make a large difference when deployed campus-wide. These changes are also the most essential: if we’re to ensure a long-term solution to printing reduction, the changes we make must be institutionalized and maintained at the highest level. As students come and go, institutional solutions remain.

Practically, there are a number of things the college can do to help reduce printing. Installing stations that queue print jobs (requiring students to swipe a P-card to release a job), but do not charge for those jobs, eliminates the wasted paper that might get printed but not picked up. Software could be installed on campus (and personal) computers that prompts the user to confirm a job before printing, and even warns users when printing an excessive number of copies or when printing single-sided. Set up all campus printers to duplex by default, and make sure they stay that way throughout the year.

According to ITS, when you factor in paper, toner, the cost of a printer, and maintenance on that printer, the cost of a page of paper comes out around 2.37 cents. The actual paper contributes little to this amount; toner is the bigger culprit. If we’re looking at reducing the printing budget, we should also consider reducing the amount of toner we consume. Ecofont is a good start: it’s a font that’s dotted with small holes that reduces the amount of toner used by up to 25%. The company (of the same name) provides educational packages that integrate well into the Microsoft Office suite. While this would help, many of the documents we print are not papers we create, but rather documents from E-reserves and various other sources. To reduce the amount of toner we consume when printing those, printers could be set to default to “EconoMode”, which prints lighter, but less toner-intensive, documents.

Individually, there are a number of ways students can self-govern their printing. It takes only a little effort to save a lot of paper. Paper does grow on trees; it’s a resource that we can and should attempt to conserve. If at all possible, keep it electronic: if you don’t have to print a document (for class, research, or otherwise), do your best to read it on a computer. And when you do print documents, consider printing double-sided and two pages to a side. Print posters two-to-a-side, as well, halving the amount of paper you use to advertise events. If you own a laptop, consider bringing it to class to take notes. The bins of one-sided paper are also great for notes or problem sets.

Neither of these lists of suggested changes is obviously comprehensive. Our college breeds creative minds with potential that has no limits. Let’s embrace this potential and brainstorm more creative ways to reduce our printing, eliminating the need for a cost-based system entirely.

Questions? Concerns? Suggestions? E-mail [satherdy]

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