Letter to the Editor: DExC and THRIVE
September 4, 2022
To the editors,
While I appreciate your interest in and coverage of the College’s Digital Excellence Commitment (DExC), your editorial reveals several misunderstandings about the program and how the College is supporting the computing needs of our THRIVE students. While I was interviewed about the program earlier in the week, you have applied those comments in a different context in your editorial. Since I was not asked questions specifically about THRIVE students or for any comment before you published your editorial, I’d like to offer some clarifications here.
DExC provides a standard set of technologies to all students, with each incoming student receiving an Apple iPad Mini, an Apple Pencil and a 13-inch MacBook Pro paid for by the College that students will use for their four years here and take with them when they graduate. This includes all incoming THRIVE students.
You write in your editorial that “the students most in need of the College’s support have been denied access to a crucial resource.” In truth, the students in question were the first to benefit from the approach of receiving MacBooks as part of their Bowdoin experience. The College has been providing this resource to members of its THRIVE program since 2018.
It is certainly true that technology advances and that the laptops students are receiving this year have newer technology than last year’s models. But that has been the case for the last four years and will continue to be a reality of the program. Students who matriculate next fall will have newer models than those provided this week, and the pattern will repeat in future years. THRIVE students who matriculated last year have a year-old college-owned Apple laptop. Those who matriculated in 2020 have a two-year old machine, and so on, but these are hardly “inferior” machines, as you describe them in your editorial. Next year’s THRIVE students will have newer laptops and iPads than this year’s class but this in no way alters the College’s commitment to equip every student with the digital tools they need for success.
The DExC program mirrors the four-year computer replacement cycle for faculty and staff, some of whom have brand new computers, while others are currently using one-, two- or three-year-old technology. Many of these faculty and staff are successfully doing sophisticated work on these machines. All of these Apple products are built to last (which is one important reason we selected them) and they all have best-in-class AppleCare+ warranties paid for by Bowdoin and with repairs facilitated by the College—no one has to “travel 26 miles to the closest Apple store” as you suggest in your editorial. Students can access support and initiate repairs through the Bowdoin IT Service Desk at https://support.bowdoin.edu. Should the need for repairs arise while a student is on break, studying away or otherwise off campus, repairs can be done at any Apple Store in the world. In addition, for THRIVE students specifically, the College pays any out-of-pocket repair costs not covered by Apple, a benefit that was explained when students first received their laptops. If there is a faulty keyboard or a cracked screen, it can be repaired or replaced at no cost to these students.
All of these computers are sophisticated machines, with regular updates and operating system upgrades provided by Apple, and access to College software. They are up to the job—very much including machines that may be a year old for sophomores, two years old for juniors, or three years old for seniors (there are no students at Bowdoin with a four-year-old College-issued computer) and those even older. By the time our current first-year students are seniors, they too will have three-year old Apple laptops, and again, if something breaks or malfunctions along the way, AppleCare+ will take care of it—at no additional cost for our THRIVE students.
I understand the appeal of having the very latest equipment. Bowdoin’s goal with DExC is to level the technological playing field, create a common computing platform for all students, and to allow students to work together seamlessly with each other and with faculty. We do that not by buying the newest technology every year for every person, but by providing a hardware platform that can run the same software and by helping to maintain this equipment over the four-year Bowdoin experience. There is nothing “shameful” or “lopsided” about that.
Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer
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As the recent EdBoard post notes, some THRIVE/GCS students received a 2019 MBP. It’s common knowledge that the 2016-2019 line of MacBooks are to be avoided for their butterfly keys. Although Bowdoin provides AppleCare+, Apple’s repair policy for faulty keys is just to replace the bottom portion of the laptop, but this is just a temporary solution and does not address the faulty engineering. The same generation of MacBooks are also the last to feature Intel chips, before Apple released their in-house chipsets in 2020. The newly provided laptops sport M2 chips, which are light-years ahead in terms of power and battery efficiency.
Although I applaud the College’s commitment to Digital Excellence and for offering THRIVE students laptops earlier, it seems wrong that an institution committed to equity, and one that proudly boasts piles of MacBooks and iPads on social media, refuses to upgrade a relatively inferior product for students who are in most need. As a current first-year and THRIVE student myself, I already find myself skeptical about whom these policies and commitments are actually geared towards—and if I truly “belong at Bowdoin” if this is the view the College chooses to approach with.