“The University of Regina is at a tipping point”

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The U of R’s infrastructure needs improvements

Dietrich Neu
Features Editor

“The University of Regina is at a tipping point”

That is an excerpt from the University’s university’s 2011 Campus Master Plan document released earlier this month.

This year, the U of R has more students than it has had in the last seven. However, a lot has changed over that time, leaving many students wondering if our current infrastructure is up to date and can handle this new volume of students walking the halls. With a new nursing program guaranteeing even more undergraduates in the future, the need to adequate infrastructure and facilities has never been greater.

The 2011 Campus Master Plan document reveals our administration’s plans to improve and develop the university and accommodate the growing needs of an ever-increasing student body. In addition to plans for new buildings, parking spaces, services, etc., there are other issues on the minds of students regarding the university’s email service, library computers, expensive TVs around campus, WiFi, and transit.

The U of R expects that enrolmentenrollment rates could continue increase by as much as 52 per cent , from current levels if itstheir “high-growth” estimates are correct. The uUniversity’s plan includes not only additions to school infrastructure, but the improvement of what is already in place.

“The most sustainable building that we can build is the one that we don’t build,” Nelson Wagner, VP of facilities management at the University of Regina, told the Carillon in and interview. “Better use of what we have is the key to a more sustainable future.”

The U of R campus master plan is the continuation of a similar document made in 2004. The document was about 18 months in the making and outlines everything, in terms of infrastructure, that the uUniversity is planning to implement in the future.

The plan aims to carry over some of the 2004 strategies:, work on more efficient utilization of the space we have, increase parking spaces, and improve transit options, growing the university to a level of “critical mass,” at which time the campus will have a large enough population to support more advanced infrastructure, and improving the overall look of the school.

While the document focuses on the changes made to the actual building around the campus, as well as requests for capital funding, and improvements to the appearance of university structures, there are some issues that hit home for students on a more immediate level.

Several concerns have been raised around campus regarding infrastructure issues like the U of R web mail, television advertising around campus, student housing, and the disappearance of library computers.

The Carillon has had the opportunity to sit down with several members of school administration, as well as students, to discuss the future of the University of Regina’s infrastructure system, and what the future holds, and the current state of the more accessible facets of the infrastructure system.

Renovations in the library

"I have no idea what this special project is, but I hope it’s worth it. Finding a computer in the lab is almost a waste of time. We have to walk around for a long time before one opens up.” – Robert Kim, U of R  – Computer science student

At the beginning of this year’s fall semester, many students were surprised to see that almost half of the library computers had been removed. In their place, a mysterious wall partitioned a construction area from the rest of the library. A sign on the door that read “special project” provided additional intrigue, as well as confusion, into what the new space was going to be used for, and, where the computers that used to occupy the space had gone.

“This is partially related to the new nursing faculty,” Wagner told the Carillonsaid. “We had a challenge with [the nursing faculty] because we didn’t have the full amount of infrastructure needed to house that whole faculty, especially when it comes up to full strength.”

The new nursing faculty has brought just under 200 new students with it, and more are on the way.

Two questions arise from the new project in the library: what will the space be used for and? And, where did the computers that once occupied the space go?

According to Wagner, the project in the library has two parts.

The first involves two series of private work facilities that run along the sides of the main structure. These rooms are equipped to facilitate group work in a convenient and private atmosphere.

“[These rooms] will have a state of the art system,” Wagner said. “You can already see the LED screens in there. They have the capability to be hooked up to four or five laptops at once, which allows for a lot of team work to be done in there.”

In the main area, located in between the outer rows of team rooms, there will be two new computer labs. Although the details on the labs themselves are vague, Wagner states stated that students and teachers will use the labs for a variety of purposes.

“There will be a fixed lab , and a variable lab, with a wall in the middle, and we will be able to move the wall to combine the two labs into one,” he said. “It’s for both students and teaching. Teachers will be able to use the technology in the lab to learn how to teach better, and everyone in the community will be able to use them for several purposes.”

However great the new work stations promise to be, there is still a nagging problem, where did the other 50 computers go?

Second-year English major Andrew Filer, a second year English major, like many students, is feeling the pressure put on by the high demand, and low supply of computers.

“It’s so difficult to get a hold of one of the main- floor machines,” he said. “There [are]is always lots of people waiting for a computer. Sometimes I will skip class because I know that if I leave I might not be able to get a computer when I get back. It is stressful to think that I might not be able to get a spot when I really need one.”

Unbeknownst to many students is the sixth floor computer lab, which holds another 30 additional computers. However, access to these machines is not guaranteed either either, as space is frequently booked by various classes. During these classes, as a matter of principle, no outside students are allowed to use the computers, even if the class using the sixth floor lab only contains a handful of students.

Wagner said the low supply of computers will not be permanent says Wagner. When the construction within the library is complete, upwards of 30 news computers will be available to anyone in the community. In addition to that, 16 more will be placed around numerous library floors.

The project is on the tail end of completion, which should come as a great relief to students like Kim and Filer, who are becoming agitated with the highly competitive environment surrounding the library computers.

“I have developed a strategy for getting a spot when I need it,” Kim said. “Can you believe that? I’ve had to develop a strategy for sitting down to use a computer, or I might not get one.”

Time will soon tell if these new facilities will be an adequate replacement to the 50 missing computers that were available to students last semester.

TVs around the school

Almost every student on campus has noticed the plethora of plasma TVs scattered around the school. However, many students are perplexed as to the purpose of such a seemingly expensive way of displaying advertising.

Many are quick to dismiss the TVs as a crude attempt to make the university look sleeker and technologically up to date.

According to URSU University of Regina Students’ Union President Kent Peterson, the TVs primary purpose is to help get their message to students, while generating revenue for the Students’ uUnion at the same time.

“They let students know about events that the sStudent’s uUnion is advertising. We are using it to let students know about the Our Future is Now campaign, for example,” he said. “I guess the other purpose is that it’s a revenue generator – , we get 6,500 dollars a year, just from the other ads alone.”

URSU doesn’t get ad money from the individual advertisers; its their contract is with Captive Audience, a Saskatchewan based “non-traditional” marketing company. For students who think that URSU is wasting money on plasma TVs, Captive Audience supplies them. They giveCaptive Audience gives URSU $6,500 dollars a year to place theiritstheir advertising televisions around the campus, and in return, URSU gets one- third of the total full- screen advertisements that appear on the screen.

Essentially, Captive Audience pays URSU to advertise on campus while  giving them free space to advertise their own uUnion messages.

“The 6,500 dollars they generate, help to subsidize the other things we do,” Peterson said. “So if we are printing out poster for the UR Pride, that 6,500 dollars helps to subsidize that. Or maybe our graphics designer makes different ads for posters or online – , that money helps to subsidize his wages.”

While the financial benefit to URSU is indisputable, the effectiveness of getting their its message out there is not so black and white. Judging the effectiveness of advertising is a tricky issue, as it is difficult to quantify the success of advertising, or trace a successful event turn-out back to well placed ads.

Peterson believes that they ads around school do work effectively.

“People do notice them,” he said. “It seems like they are kind of off in the background., y You would be surprised how many people look at them, whether they are in line at Tim Horton’s or standing waiting for an elevator.”

Several criticisms from students have emerged around the fact that many of these televisions appear to be turned off most of the time. However, which TV is on and which TV is off appears to be inconsistent.

At 4:30pm on a Monday evening, the Carillon took a gander around the school to investigate the issue. We found that out of 18 URSU run TVs, only two were displaying any kind of message.

“In terms of them being off, they shouldn’t be,” Peterson said. “If they are off, they either need maintenance, or to be turned back on. But we haven’t really encountered too much problems with that generally."

When it comes to student issues about TVs not operating, Wagner has heard the complaints before.

“It is interesting you bring that up; it’s the second time I have heard that complaint recently,” he said. “It is something I need to talk to URSU about, because if they are not keeping them going, it is part of their agreement to keep them going and up and running.”

Regardless of the confusion on the issue, the fact remains that during our survey of the TVs around campus, only 11 per cent of the televisions were displaying messages. However, it is unclear if the students on campus even mind.

Student housing

“Living on campus makes things a lot easier. Being immersed in the university atmosphere seems to motivate me to work harder.” – Bianca Robinson, U of R fine arts major student

Housing poses and additional problem for legions of students every year;, the lack of affordable housing compounds the issue for many students, who already have a difficult time balancing the books.

While many students seem to desire as much time away from the university as possible, the history of college and university students living in campus residence runs deep. Indeed, in the early days of the University of Regina, all students were required to live on residence if they wanted to attend school.

The uUniversity’s Campus Master plan clearly states itstheir intention of increasing theat availability of student housing. The document claims that “academic studies show that students who live on campus perform better than those who don’t.” Although these studies are never clearly named in the Master Plan document, the message is clear: the U of R wants more of its students living on campus.

As it stands right now, the campus residence bed can hold around 15 per cent of the student population. According to the campus master plan, Tthe university wants to get that number up to 20 per cent according to the campus master plan.

“We have a proposal that we hope will be approved by the provincial government,” Wagner stated. “It obviously won’t be approved by the provincial government before the election. But we have requested 606 new beds.”

The injection of 606 new beds would beef up the U of R residence bed total to 1,828.

The University believes that more students living on campus will create a better campus. The Master Plan document points to several, unnamed, studies that claim more residence space helps universities to compete for international students, while “facilitating a more active and vibrant campus environment, supporting a more comprehensive range of services and amenities.”

U of R webmail

“I didn’t know it was possible to have email this bad.” – Sebastian Kuefer, U of R P political science student

“I’m not sure why they even have it. Pretty much any free email account out there is better than what you get here at the U of R. It’s just sad.” – Mathew Benoit, fine arts student

One of the biggest black marks on the U of R’s technical infrastructure system is the U of R web mail. Even with the recent improvements to the system, the University’s university’s email offering is one of the worst email networks on the Internet.

Despite a new facelift, the uUniversity’s web mail service is plagued by a horrifyingly small amount of memory, an awkward deletion process, mailing lists that are impossible for user to be removed from –, the list goes on.

At this point, the university web mail appears to be more useful as ammunition for student griping, rather than a legitimate communications service. University administration appears to be aware of this.

“We are not currently providing an acceptable email service to students,” Art Exner, director of communications and infrastructure information services, said. “We have plans to make some serious changes in the future.”

Although the university has recently changed the web interface for their mail service, which certainly makes the webm mail more visually appealing, the system  that the email runs on still has some of the same old problems, which that render it almost unusable to people looking for a legitimate email service.

The U of R web mail offers students a minuscule 25 megabytes of storage. Google’s free email service, Gmail, offers seven gigabytes of storage, roughly 300 times the level of the U of R email.

Small storage space is a huge problem for perspective email users, and it is a problem that is compounded by another flaw in the university’s email system.

“If you send an email to a student who is at their quota [of memory storage],” Exner said. “The message is not bounced back to you as the sender, so you don’t know that the person you intended to send it to didn’t get the message. And the student doesn’t receive any indication that there was a message that the system could not deliver.

“Then the message gets, what we call, ‘black holed,’ meaning it’s not deleted, but it goes some place where nobody is going to look at it.”

Exner pointeds out that this can have very troublesome consequences. He spoke of various hypothetical situations where important messages about tuition fees, or important events, are lost forever, while the sender thinks the message has been delivered, and the potential recipient has no idea someone even attempted to send them an email.

Exner is by no way delusional about the poor quality to the university’s web mail.

“We are going to change it,” he said. “It is too early in the conversation to tell you what those changes might be, but what we have is just not acceptable in my view.”

In addition, other email services, like Gmail, can be directly connected to mobile devices; U of R web mail cannot.

Without sweeping changes to the web mail system, U of R web mail is destined to be a major black mark on the university’s technical infrastructure. It either needs to be corrected, or removed permanently.

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