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November 12, 1998

CIS studying ways to alleviate printing and other problems in computing labs

The average turn-around time for printing at public computing labs in Forbes Quad and the Cathedral of Learning was 40-90 minutes last spring, a survey by Pitt's Office of Computing and Information Services (CIS) found.

Sometimes it took hours to print a single document, depending on the time of day.

Because most computers at Pitt labs don't indicate the status of printing jobs, frustrated users often compound the problem by sending multiple print commands for the same job.

To help relieve the backlog, Pitt's administration is considering giving students priority for printing at public labs. Faculty and staff often use lab printers as supplements or substitutes for departmental printers, according to CIS.

Also in the future, departments and offices may be individually billed for printing at public computer labs, just as they now pay for copies at public photocopiers on campus.

Currently, faculty and staff may print unlimited numbers of pages at Pitt public computing labs, while students are allowed a maximum of 900 sheets per term. (Contrary to what many students assume, the Computer Services and Network fee does not cover printing costs.) Those are among the numerous ideas that CIS and several computing advisory groups are considering to enhance computer printing at Pitt.

Also under consideration are proposals to improve:

* Ubiquitous Network Access (UNA) programs, which since 1993 have provided departments and schools with an integrated approach to information technology ownership and support for faculty and graduate teaching assistants.

To date, more than 1,200 computers have been distributed through the programs. Participants are upgraded to high-end Pentium or Power Macintosh computers. They also gain access to a software library on a server maintained by CIS analysts and can customize their desktops to meet their software needs, among other services.

To support these costly programs, individual units may be required in the future to pay for upgrading faculty computers and printers and for software.

* Behavior by users at public computing labs. Following incidents of offensive and threatening behavior at the labs — displaying and printing sexually explicit materials is the main complaint — CIS and the student computing working group of Pitt's Executive Committee for Academic Computing are drafting a policy spelling out computer lab decorum.

* Remote access to Pitt network resources, which is largely provided through an in-house modem pool.

To meet increased demand resulting from the growth of the Internet and increased network resources at the University, Pitt has expanded and upgraded the modem pool annually since 1992. Currently, 799 modems are available — still not enough to meet University needs, according to CIS.

Pitt risks becoming technologically obsolete as it struggles to upgrade hardware to keep up with existing standards, CIS maintains.

To increase modem pool access and effectiveness, CIS is evaluating a number of options such as creating an express pool that would limit users to, say, 15 minutes of modem time.

Outsourcing of remote access does not appear to be cost-effective, according to CIS. Other options include negotiating arrangements with an Internet service provider through which users would be billed for remote access to Pitt networks.

Full reports on those and other proposals and recommendations are available at: Susan Sereika of the University Senate computer usage committee reported on the proposed changes at this month's Faculty Assembly and Senate Council meetings.

Sereika invited faculty, staff and students to send comments and concerns about Pitt computer services by e-mail to her at or by e-mail to Irene Frieze at

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 31 Issue 6

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