The University has sent 1,700 computers to be destroyed since June 2023, according to University spokesperson Ahmed Rizvi in an email to The Daily Princetonian. In previous years, University-distributed computers were wiped and resold to members of the University community, non-profit partners, and the general public for lower prices. A new policy sends the devices to an e-recycling center, stepping away from reuse. Faculty are also now required to replace their devices every four years.
Although this change was made in May 2023, several University websites continue to incorrectly claim that computers are sent to Resource Recovery where they would be resold. According to Rizvi, the decision to destroy the computers was attributed to “an abundance of caution” relating to a backlog of aged machines that came in after the pandemic and worries that said devices may have malware that would activate upon an attempt to wipe them.
“It is surprising and disappointing that the University is destroying computers without at least being transparent about the policy,” wrote Professor Arvind Narayanan, director of the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP), in an email to the ‘Prince.’
“There are well known methods to securely delete data, which is presumably what the University did previously. OIT should at least explain why they no longer consider that to be adequate,” he added.
The University provides computers to faculty members through its Faculty Computer Program (FCP). This year, according to Rizvi, the University has provided almost 500 new computers through the program. The program was founded in 1996 to “refresh the computers of full professors, associate professors, and other select faculty members.”
There have been changes to the program recently. Since January, lecturers and visiting fellows are able to receive computers through the University. The University also banned computer customizations, and required that devices be returned to OIT every four years in order to be replaced.
Rizvi noted in a written comment to the ‘Prince’ that the four-year policy is currently a recommendation but will soon be made an official policy.
OIT Communications Director Milan Stanic wrote to the ‘Prince’ that the new requirement to purchase a new computer every four years is “because those with older operating systems, which are not regularly updated with security patches, are more vulnerable to new security threats and exploits.”
Starting this June, disposal procedures have also changed in order to ensure information security. In the past, all electronics returned through the FCP went to Princeton’s Resource Recovery program. Resource Recovery serves as a surplus depot for out-of-use University equipment. Instead of disposing of old furniture, lab equipment, and technology, Resource Recovery sells their stock at reduced prices — available to members of the University community, non-profit partners, and the general public.
According to Resource Recovery Coordinator Daron Groce, the Resource Recovery Center continues to receive monitors, phones, scientific equipment, and other items that are not computers. But as part of the recent changes aimed at IT security, all computers, laptops, and tablets are now wiped by Princeton employees and shipped to Monmouth Wire Computer Recycling, a device recycling service based in Tinton Falls, N.J.
“Due to the risk to our systems and data,” wrote Stanic, “we do not — at this time — consent to reselling these devices for any purpose.”
According to Rizvi, once the University reaches “a steady state of consistent asset management, across all departments, for these devices, we will consider additional possibilities for reuse.”
Until that undetermined date of “consistent asset management,” the University will continue to demand that these devices be destroyed.
Eden Teshome is a senior News writer for the ‘Prince’ and the head Podcast editor.
Raphaela Gold is a News contributor at the ‘Prince.’
Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.