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Laptops for Faculty Is Egregious Waste

The Tech received a copy of this letter addressed to Provost Mark S. Wrighton.

I'm writing this letter in response to two articles that appeared on the front page of the Oct. 6 Tech Talk. In a remarkably inauspicious example of page layout, "Two Schools' Faculties to Get Laptops," was placed adjacent to "1993 Deficit Tops Projection."

In a time of tight resources, in which MIT is running a deficit and people with long years of service are being laid off, how can we possibly justify giving laptop computers to faculty members who are in all likelihood paid in excess of $30,000 a year? If these people feel the pressing need for a computer to facilitate their work, they certainly have the resources with which to purchase one. If they feel no such need, why waste MIT funds on a useless gift?

After talking with a number of people, I've compiled a short list of arguments for the computers. None are particularly convincing to me. In the interest of space I'll keep my objections brief.

1. Faculty members' time is very expensive, so anything MIT can give them to enhance their productivity is a potential money-saver.

Why don't we apply this standard to all members of the MIT community? If, for example, a particular person makes three times as much as I do (not a bad estimate) and his or her productivity will double with a computer, but my productivity will be enhanced by a factor of seven if I'm given a computer. . . isn't it in MIT's interest to give me one?

2. These faculty members have the "unique" need to use a computer in libraries and at conferences.

I can get much more work done at home or in the library than I can in my overcrowded, noisy, dirty, windowless office with a raccoon mucking about in the drop-down ceiling (true!). Yet, I'm not paid enough to buy a suitable laptop. Should MIT buy me a computer, given my "unique" need to work away from my office? Are my needs different than the faculty member who wants to take notes in the library or at a conference?

3. Science/engineering/business faculty bring in research funds, and can afford to buy their own computers. Humanities faculty generally don't have this ability, so why not give them computers?

This means that not only do the first three groups pay the bulk of moneys received under the "overhead" fee structure, but they must also pay for their own computers (out of their own pockets, in many cases). This is perhaps less than equitable treatment.

As for the arguments about electronic mail, I shan't waste more than a few keystrokes on them. These people are just as capable of going to an Athena cluster as anyone else on campus.

In short, I feel that this whole idea is ill-conceived. To lower tuition; to reduce the budget deficit; to fire fewer people - all of these are better uses for the thousands of dollars you're investing in this project. I fear that expenses like this give the John Dingels of the world their ammunition.

Ross Levinsky