One of the strangest experiences of my first month at Yale has been seeing, for the first time, a tour group wandering around Old Campus. For those of us who toured campus only a little more than a year ago, seeing past versions of ourselves is a physical déja vu — we were those kids blankly staring at the statue of Nathan Hale, listening to our guide make a joke about him being “America’s first spy and America’s worst spy.” I remember barely being able to think of a question to pierce the carefully constructed narrative Yale curates on these tours, but now that I’m a student here, I already have plenty.

Namely, why on earth do we have to pay for printing?

I can imagine a tour guide trying to answer the question. They might try to play off the cost as being insignificant — only 10 cents a page! — but every Yale student knows that those dimes add up. I’ve already blown $14.74 printing out various lectures and essays, which extrapolates out to something like $100 a year. This might not seem like a lot, especially compared to the astronomical cost of tuition, but it pales in comparison to the 255 billion sheets of paper Yale’s investment office could afford with the university endowment. That amount of paper, laid end to end, would stretch to the moon and back 92 times.

And, besides, isn’t the whole point of tuition to cover the cost of attending Yale? Every student has to print out various essays, papers and lectures — a necessary function of any class — but the cost associated with non-electronic assignments adds an extra twist to the knife.

Maybe a tour guide would make the ecological argument. Printing paper is, after all, uniformly bad for the environment. My “environmental impact” counter on WebPrint says I’ve contributed 576 grams of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and wasted 0.2% of a tree. While there are legitimate concerns around deforestation and paper usage, there are better ways to balance environmental considerations and printing needs than forcing students to pay for every sheet. Yale could implement a reasonable page limit for students before forcing them to pay. This system would allow for students to print out what they need while avoiding abuse by those for whom what they need is every reading for every class.

“Oh, but every school makes you pay!” a tour guide might exclaim. While most schools do charge some sort of fee, few are as pricey as Yale’s, and besides, tradition is never a good argument to keep something around. Yale was the first private research university, more than forty years ago, to establish need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid for its students. We could be paper pioneers as well.

Maybe this seems trivial. Clearly, there are bigger problems for Yale to ponder than an extra surcharge for some flattened wood pulp, but I doubt there are many as consistently irksome or just plain annoying. Having to pay for printing is the pet peeve of most students I’ve spoken with and likely the pet peeve of those with whom I have not.

So why not fix the problem?

There’s no need for Yale to be Ebenezer Scrooge, being as stingy with the comparatively paltry printing cost as it is with policies like the student income contribution. There’s no need for Yale to be Oprah, either, giving away reams to every student like they’ve won a brand new car. All I’m asking for is a university that doesn’t feel like it is squeezing every last dollar it possibly can out of its students.

Let’s not make tour guides have to answer questions about printing cost. They probably hate it just as much as we do.

Conor Johnson is a first year in Davenport College. Contact him at