Somtime in the next few years William and Mary will be replacing the College’s PBX system and will have to decide if it makes sense to continue to provide land lines to 4500+ residence hall rooms. Fewer and fewer students even plug phones into the jacks in their rooms and fewer than half activate their voice mail. Email has become passé–particularly the official college address–and instructors, deans and registrars bemoan the fact that many students are virtually impossible to reach through our traditional mechanisms. Colleagues in student affairs relate that this has become a serious problem; it’s difficult to get in contact even with the president of the senior class.
Providing students with College-provided cell phones provides at least one more chance that administrators can get in touch with students–either those in trouble or who are playing key roles in events like commencement. As this article indicates, replacing land lines can also save a lot of money, which can be invested in other services that students *do* use.
One of difficulties of discussing replacing land lines with cell phones is the expectation that has developed among many administrators that universities have some obligation to provide every student room with a telephone.
Officials at Towson University in Maryland worry about potential lawsuits if students don’t have reliable landline service in their dorm rooms in case of emergency.
“While the money we pay for landlines in each room could be reinvested elsewhere, I don’t like the idea of depending solely on a few courtesy phones in hallways,” Towson telecommunications analyst Alex Konialian said.
I think there are real advantages to configuring some of our services so that they can be accessible to students via smart phones, but I’m not convinced that universities have any implied obligation to provide phones–either wired or wireless. (Fogey alert: Generations of students got along just fine with hall phones, even before everyone had a cell phone and IM capability.)
More importantly, I’m trying to figure out what’s gone so wrong with the way that we communicate with our students that we feel we have to issue them telephones because they won’t read or answer our email, provide us with a phone number where we can reach them or otherwise communicate with the faculty and staff they’re paying so much to learn from. Something here just doesn’t compute.