Buy what you need, not what you want.
It’s a lesson UCLA would benefit from learning.
The university recently paid $259,200 for a campus-wide subscription to Slack, a workplace communication platform. UCLA Slack was released on Sept. 21 in what could be described as a “soft launch,” since students were not notified of the new platform.
The sizable purchase comes at a time when the University of California faces a nearly $2 billion loss in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. UCLA alone lost $653 million between March and August – the highest financial loss of all UC campuses. Not to mention, many Bruins face critical financial distress and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
The university’s purchase of Slack represents an unnecessary splurge that wastes valuable funding administrators are quick to say they don’t have. Rather than throw money at an app many may not use, the university could have used those funds to help students meet more dire needs. Administrators may be removed from their students’ realities, but they would be wise not to make the same mistake moving forward.
After all, a free messaging app is irrelevant when you don’t have the money to pay rent or buy food.
Many students already use GroupMe, a free messaging platform with similar functionality as Slack, and UCLA-provided licensed Zoom subscriptions for both social and academic communication. With these two platforms already employed in full swing, Slack doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
It’s hard to imagine that UCLA Slack will serve the community in a more meaningful way than other purchases of the same amount would. The $259,200 splurge could have helped cover some fall quarter fees for services students are not able to use during the pandemic.
Until week two, the university even charged students without the University of California Student Health Insurance Plan between $65 to $105 to receive COVID-19 tests at Ashe. It begs the question of why the university would choose not to make tests accessible earlier when it clearly had the funds to do so.
Administrators haven’t announced plans to reallocate funds towards student-led initiatives aimed at increasing campus equity and accessibility since cutting their funding. Slack may have its advantages, but the app falls flat in the face of the benefits programs such as Project SPELL or BEST brought to students.
Still, it may be unwise to write UCLA Slack off as ill-natured. The purchase comes across as a whole-hearted effort to streamline communication and foster community while Bruins are scattered across the globe.
But it’s hard to justify the purchase of UCLA Slack when each of its goals is already satisfied with pre-existing platforms. In a different year, this purchase might have been a welcome technological advancement on UCLA’s part.
During a pandemic, it is woefully unnecessary.