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Most students willing to pay to maintain Project Athena

By Brian Rosenberg

Sixty-three percent of those who voted in Wednesday's Undergraduate Association elections said they would be willing to pay an additional $100 in tuition per year in order to maintain the current level of Athena services.

Twenty-six percent of voters said they would not want to pay such an increase, and 10 percent had no opinion. The figures did not add up to 100 percent because of rounding errors and "ambiguous ballots, for example when someone writes, "Yes, but," said Yevgeny Gurevich '94, a member of the UA Executive Board.

Voters answered a referendum question posed in response to recent changes in Athena funding. Grants from IBM and Digital Equipment Corporation for Project Athena expire on June 30.

The question was written by the UA ExecBoard and approved at a meeting of the UA Council last week. According to current UA President Manish Bapna '91, ExecBoard conferred with Vice President for Financial Operations James J. Culliton about the $100 figure.

Shally Bansal '93, an ExecBoard member who conferred with Culliton, said he indicated that the administration had conducted research indicating that tuition would need to be raised by $100 to retain current services. She stressed, however, that $100 was only an estimate. "An increase would not mean that Athena would receive $100 times the number of students here, however, because all tuition increases are subject to financial aid and other deductions," Bansal said.

Professor Earll M. Murman, director of Project Athena and head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said the results were "gratifying."

"It feels very good for Project Athena to hear that 63 percent of the students would pay money for Athena. It is also disconcerting that 26 percent would not. That means we still have work to do," he said.

Murman explained that $100 per student is too little to maintain current operations. "The annual budget to maintain Athena -- including equipment maintenance -- is about $6 million. Assuming there are about 10,000 students here, that's $600 per student per year," he said.

However, Murman added that "an additional $100 per student would mean another $1 million, which would make a significant contribution on hardware replacement costs."

In explanation of the apparent contradiction between Culliton's and Murman's figures, Bansal stressed that any tuition increase would not be expected to cover the entire cost of Athena. "Culliton said that the Institute has been building a fund to carry on Athena, though he didn't describe how much money was in it," she said.

Hans C. Godfrey '92, chairman of the UA ExecBoard, said the referendum's results came as a surprise. "I'm surprised that so many students would be willing to pay for Athena. It was a pleasant kind of surprise, because it showed that students have an interest in Athena."

At a meeting last night, the ExecBoard decided that the referendum's results were significant enough to warrant a more in-depth survey on the future of Athena. The board intends to confer with the Course Evaluation Guide staff about the possibility of distributing a survey with the guides at the end of the semester.

The board also intends to discuss the results of the referendum with Culliton, the Academic Council, and the Committee on Academic Computing. Bansal said she thought the administration "wants to know how important Athena is to the students."