Time to do Dordt differently?

Josh Bootsma- Guest Writer

Despite Computer Service’s humble announcement of the new policy, all of Dordt College now knows it has to pay thirty dollars to fix its computer.

Upon hearing this news, I, along with most other students whose lives are frequently infected by a computer virus, felt less than happy. For the past eight years, students have been able to bring their phones, tablets, laptops and other electronic equipment to Computer Services for repairs. For free. This year, for all but the simplest Wi-Fi connection problems, students will have to hand over thirty dollars as an up-front payment. In other words, a school that charges $36,000 for a year’s tuition is now charging an additional fee for a service they used to provide for free. On top of that, a college that is building a skywalk as part of a project that’s final phase costs $13 million (because heaven forbid students walk in the cold for 30 seconds) is charging $30 for computer repairs.

Chump change for Dordt. But not for students.

Dordt students are not happy. In fact, to use a word I’ve heard quite a bit, they’re pissed. College students like to avoid paying for things in general, but when asked to pay for things they previously got for free, they get angry.

And rightfully so, says Computer Services director Brian Van Donselaar. Van Donselaar perfectly understands the frustrations of students who feel cheated by Dordt, but he also wants them to understand the situation in which Computer Services finds itself.

According to Van Donselaar, Computer Services made the change for two main reasons. First, students were abusing their privilege by bringing in devices that were not theirs (for example, a parent’s laptop) and were generally trying to exploit the free service for purposes beyond those for which it was intended. Second, tuition dollars were not being well spent. He said that only about 25% of students use Computer Services and therefore using the tuition dollars of all students to fund repair for only a few is not fair to students.

It would follow, then, that tuition would drop to account for this change, right? Nope. Quite the opposite, actually. Now students are paying more for less, and if they need their computer repaired, they will have to pay even more for that which used to be free. When asked about this, Van Donselaar shrugged and said, “Life’s not fair.”

Another problem with the new system is that the fee charged must be paid before any repairs are even done. Former Computer Services work-study Chris Slice feels that this fee takes advantage of students, as the majority of work done consists of simple things like getting the appropriate anti-virus protection or backing up a hard-drive. In his experience, the average task requires about 15 minutes of labor (although the total time often takes much longer because of rebooting, disinfecting, downloading, etc). But the new policy doesn’t allow for exceptions beyond simple Wi-Fi connection problems. That means students are donating $30 to Computer Services to do a task that they were not quite confident enough to do themselves, but took minimal effort on the part of Computer Services.

But maybe the fault does not lie completely with the department. Van Donselaar notes that Dordt Maintenance is not expected to give students oil changes, so why should computer repair be any different? Computer Services has always been primarily about the sustenance of Dordt devices and networks, not personal devices of students, and making student repairs has lost the department tens of thousands of dollars over the last eight years. Continuing to provide such a service for free would be financially irresponsible and not consistent with the mission of Computer Services, says Van Donselaar.

Then whose fault is it? If student frustrations and the actions of the Dordt IT department are legitimate, then who’s to blame? Perhaps the Dordt culture is the culprit, posits Slice. “It comes down to Dordt getting bigger and losing its ability to focus on individual student,” Slice said.

“This policy change is an example of a ‘department’ that is losing the ability to fend for itself and, in order to maintain homeostasis, is eliminating one of those small things that makes Dordt special. I don’t blame Computer Services, I blame the system.”

Slice thinks that perhaps Dordt administration’s expectations are the real problem. He agrees with Van Donselaar that fixing student computers is not something that Computer Services is about. But maybe, he says, it should be what Computer Services is about. Slice believes there’s too much of an expectation that Dordt departments should be run like businesses, a message that is not consistent with the mentality Dordt claims to hold dear. If you buy into the idea that Dordt preaches to its students, that Christians are called to act as redemptive agents working “toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life,” then maybe more of that kind of mentality should be seen in Dordt’s dealings with its own students. Maybe we should follow the lead of other Christian colleges like Grove City, Wheaton and Northwestern and provide a service simply for the sake of service. Maybe we could do college differently and provide students with a privilege that doesn’t make sense on paper, but does make sense when viewed through the lens of what Dordt students want and what administration claims to be about.

Dordt is not a business. It’s a training ground. A place to academically prepare disciples for kingdom work. A haven to learn how to do life differently — Christianly. And maybe there’s no way to visualize such a mentality monetarily. But if I were to try, I’d probably start with about thirty dollars.

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