Thursday, August 25, 2005

Replacing Paper

While searching through faculty pages for a work project today, I came across Greg Downey's blog, led off by this post about how administrations try to cut down on paper costs can be short-sighted even if the only goal is to save money. I especially liked this paragraph:
"With regard to syllabi, we need to think of them not simply as equivalent material artifacts where one has physical costs and one is virtually free, but artifacts that are produced and used in particular ways for particular purposes. For example, I'm a professor at a big state university who prints out paper syllabi for all of his students on the first day of class -- whether that class has 500 students or 5 students. I believe students will be able to follow along with my explanation of the class purpose, method, and details better with a physical piece of paper before them. I believe they will be able to better decide whether to take my class if they have that piece of paper to regard over dinner that night. And I believe that if they take my class, that piece of paper will serve as a valuable reminder of what they learned later. I've kept paper syllabi from classes I took two decades ago in college."

Later on he explains why it probably doesn't save the university that much money. This is probably true in the aggregate, but at least at a school the size of UW-Madison, these kinds of decisions are often made at department level, and those administrators don't care what costs are incurred by other campus units. This can also be a hidden way of cutting programs while not seeming to, as you can start charging those programs for things that weren't charged for previously.

Incidentally, further down Greg blogs about a proposed "student bill of rights" that seems even worse than the usual legislative fare in that area. He's right that most of this is grandstanding on common sense, but one provision would require student government approval for textbooks under certain common circumstances. And isn't the proposed penalty for misadvising a student pretty steep? And on issues like textbook weight and parking guidelines, we've entered micromanagement city. I'll look into this bill's current status.


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