Its endowment is tiny, and its students are mostly commuters looking for a cost-effective education without having to leave home. Yet Long Island University's massive deployment of 6,000 iPads to students and faculty has made it the leader among universities in the U.S., and probably worldwide.
More than just some isolated technological fad-dism, LIU's move towards iPads is part of the school's broader embrace of cloud computing, according to LIU's veteran CIO George Baroudi in an interview on Wednesday.
"We started to realize that the need for PCs is starting to die," he said. Tablets like the iPad cost one-third the price of a laptop. And armed with Citrix remote access software, they can run the same Windows apps a laptop can, just off a server. "The mouse is dead. Long live the finger!"
Nearly all of LIU's 3,500 full-time freshmen students have already gotten their iPads, which they own, along with more than a third of the school's faculty and administrators. Baroudi has already gotten funding to deploy tablets for the following two incoming freshmen classes. All told, he expects to have rolled out 12,000 iPads and other tablets by this time next year.
Amazing stuff, especially for a university for whom more than 40% of its 27,000 students are part-timers (who, for now, are not eligible for the iPads). The school also has an endowment of just $69 million, ranking it 422nd in the U.S. and Canada, far behind Harvard's $25 billion.
On the other hand, LIU's notable tech alumni include former Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, Global Crossing founder Gary Winnick, NCR CEO William Nuti and Nortel CIO Steven Bandrowczak.
And its proximity to Wall Street, which has embraced the iPad, has been a strong positive influence, said Baroudi. LIU rolled out BlackBerries to all faculty seven years ago. A year and a half ago, Baroudi gave faculty the option to switch to an iPhone. 80% took Baroudi up on his offer.
So did Apple cut LIU a good deal on its $3 million purchase?
"Apple doesn't give God discounts," joked Baroudi. More seriously, LIU did save $120,000 by getting its iPads in bulk packaging, along with get the help of an Apple representative who helped LIU set up the infrastructure that takes just ten seconds to install LIU's apps on each iPad. Those apps include the MyLIU app, which gives students access to school services, a separate BlackBoard app for their classes, and a Citrix app for faculty and administrators accessing key university-hosted data.
Though they've only had their iPads for about two months, some faculty are starting to incorporate the iPads into the classrooms. One professor, Patrick Neely, has developed an earthquake measurement app that uses the iPad's built-in gyroscope. Pharmacy professors are testing patient data tracking apps, while chemistry ones are using molecular 3-D visualization apps. Baroudi is also encouraging faculty to use available e-textbooks, which he is confident will be much more widely available within a year or two.
iPad theft hasn't been a problem, he said. Students are covered for loss or breakage for one year by Apple's contract
Baroudi acknowledged there are skeptics. A LIU student journalist made headlines in September when she questioned LIU's deployment and got into an e-mail battle with Steve Jobs.
Baroudi said that while he is very happy with the iPad, he will embrace Android tablets when they start to arrive independent of expensive data contracts (as the Samsung Galaxy Tab is tied to Verizon today).
"Absolutely - we may either officially deploy them, too, or give students the option to get them," he said. "The revolution is about thin-client devices and cloud computing, not just about the iPad. So if we can use Android, why not?"