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Thursday, March 11, 2010

SD Budget: Cut Top Salaries, Not the Tech Fellows

The GOP's proposed budget amendments include elimination of the Board of Regents Tech Fellows program. Savings would be $770,000.

I know a number of students who are Tech Fellows. They do good work, vital work for every campus. The Tech Fellows provide tech support for students and faculty. They set up and trobuleshoot computers. They figure out why you can't connect to the network or the printer or the projector. When a paper is due and a hard drive won't spin, these Tech Fellows might make the difference between meeting the deadline and someone jumping off the Campanile. (O.K., maybe I exaggerate, but you know the feeling.)

14 DSU students cover their tuition by working as Tech Fellows. On all six public campuses, the Tech Fellows provide a valuable service. (See the praise they get at Mines). They also get great job experience, fixing a wide variety of computers and other gear and building their customer service skills. These Tech Fellows will be the I.T. gods of whatever office they work in after graduation. Their everyday service to the universities is more valuable, I would argue, than the work I do as a graduate research assistant revising research articles and grant applications that most people on campus or off will probably never hear about. (Anyone want to suggest cutting graduate research assistants instead of Tech Fellows?)

Yes, the budget is tight. Yes, the Republicans have run South Dakota's finances into the ground and now have to cut services even further to balance the books.

But instead of cutting a service that does a world of good for students, faculty, and future employers, let's make cuts where we won't lose any services at all. Take the 100 top salaries in the Regental system. Cut $7,700 from each. Or cut $4,700 from each, and then have Dr. Chicoine work for free for the coming year. (He can coast on his benefits from Monsanto for a year, can't he?) Those cuts at the top wouldn't eliminate a single service—those administrators and other top officials would be unlikely to leave during a recession... and if they did, I suspect we can replace them pretty quickly.

Alas, our Legislature seems more focused on placing burdens on the folks at the bottom of the totem pole and not vexing the folks at the top.


  1. I do not advocate getting rid of the Student Tech Fellow program. However, as a current Tech Fellow, I can tell you that I do not earn my $20 an hour (at SDSU, anyway; I can't speak as to the other schools).

    You are right in saying that we do vital work; someone must be available to provide tech support to faculty and staff. However, the knowledge required to do the job does not merit such a pay premium.

    Why not pay the going rate for such services? Students would gladly work for $10 an hour. I did for a summer, doing exactly the same job I do now as a STF.

    Perhaps the top 100 salaries in the regental system should have their salaries cut. Perhaps Dr. Chicoine should work for free this year. I really have no good knowledge of such affairs. I do know that cutting budgets is never fun, and no one wants to see their favorite projects get the axe.

    However, the money must come from somewhere. I'm sure that there is waste elsewhere in the system, but I know for a fact there is significant waste in the (SDSU) Student Tech Fellow Program.

    I'm not saying to kill the whole program. I'm not saying that it should be cut at all. I am saying that something must be done to make it worth its money. I am quite certain that the taxpayers don't want to pay $20 an hour to sit in an empty computer lab and type up this post.

  2. Kyle, get back to work! Someone's hard drive needs you!

    Of course, a half cut like Kyle's comment suggests is small potatoes compared to the $2 million someone in the legislature apparently wants to save by cutting the Opportunity Scholarship.

  3. I was a Technology Fellow at South Dakota State University for three years. I was accepted into the program the first year that it began, so perhaps I can add a little bit to the conversation. During my freshman year, I worked as an assistant to the computer specialist for the College of Arts and Science. At that time, I was his only assistant, and there was always more than enough work to go around for the two of us. When the Technology Fellowship program began, it opened up an opportunity for students, including myself, to learn valuable skills and gain work experience in an area that was desperately needed.

    I cannot speak as to what the program has become, only what it was when I was in it. One of the reasons that the pay per hour has gotten so high is because the program pays the equivalent of 32 credit hours of tuition and fees for the academic year. In exchange, you are required to work ten hours a week and attend one hour a week of training. When the program began, tuition and fees were much lower than they are now. If I recall correctly, the hourly wage ended up being around $10 an hour when I started and was around $12-13 when I graduated.

    Depending on where you wanted to focus your skills, the Technology Fellows were utilized for a wide variety of reasons. (At least they were in the College of Arts and Science.) For example, in my position, each day was different. I assisted faculty in learning how to incorporate technology in the classroom by training them on how to use PowerPoint or how to create a basic website where they could put up class notes or other supplementary materials of interest. I also provided necessary hardware and software support, working to troubleshoot computers that were not working properly or installing required upgrades to keep everything up to date. This position also led to summer opportunities working in the computer repair center and with distance education to develop web-based course software. I could go on and on about all of the things I was able to do as a Technology Fellow, but the short of it is that this was a worthwhile program that gave me opportunities and skills I could not have obtained elsewhere as an undergraduate.


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