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Carleton students charged to use the pay washing machines in their dorm’s laundry room (yes, really)

March 04, 2011 @ 08:12 By: gordon Category: In the news

Did you hear about the Carleton students who were charged to use the pay washing machines in their dorm? I’ll admit it doesn’t sound very newsworthy and it probably wouldn’t be newsworthy if the students hadn’t figured out a way to cheat the swipe machine that activates the washing machines and then whined to a reporter when Carleton caught on to it and retroactively charged them for all the “free” uses.

It seems that to use a washing machine in the dorm’s laundry room you swipe your student card, which works like a debit card, and then enter a code corresponding to the machine you’re using. But an attentive student noticed that when they “used” a certain machine that their student account wasn’t charged for the use, though they were able to activate a washing machine. Campus dorms being the tight-knit communities that they are it didn’t take long before this information spread to other students who then only ever told the card swipe that they were using the “magic” machine.

It took Carleton University a while to realize what was going on and when they did they went through the records and applied the charges to the students’ accounts to recover about $28,000 the students should have paid to use the machines. That sounds like a lot of money, but it works out to about 18,000 loads of laundry, which isn’t that much if each student was doing a couple of loads of laundry a week for most of the academic year and there were a few hundred students involved as the story suggests.

One student is quoted in the CBC story as saying “It was fun, it was just cheap”. Apparently, his “cheap fun” cost him $186 for the times he should have paid.

The student in question gave another priceless quote – well, $186 quote – to the reporter:

“As a student you just gotta kind of go for the cheapest route. And if that comes down to kind of screwing the laundry machine for free laundry machine services … then of course why wouldn’t you, right?”

As a result of the charges, some of the students now have “negative debt” on their campus cards (presumably this means their student cards are overdrawn), so they can’t buy anything with the student cards. Carleton’s sticking to its guns and saying it won’t waive the debt (which it shouldn’t), but it will consider transferring the debt to the student’s tuition bill to pay later if the student is in dire financial straits as a result, which is a not unreasonable alternative.

The commenters on the CBC story tend to fall into one of two categories: those that believe Carleton is being completely unreasonable and evil in expecting the students to pay for the times they used the machines “for free”; and those that believe the students should consider this a life lesson, pay their bill and stop whining because they got caught scamming the system. In case you haven’t figured it out, I fall into the latter category.

The students swiped their cards through the card reader and indicated they were using a washing machine, something that has a cost. Carleton’s system was clearly recording the student card numbers because the university was able to figure out how much the students owed. The fact that it took them a while to figure this out is a bit unfortunate because it allowed some students to fritter away their laundry money on other things, but it’s not unreasonable for the university to expect the students to honour their debts and pay for what they used.

I do find the fact that the student interviewed in the story seems to think that it’s perfectly fine to scam the system a bit depressing, but I take a small amount of solace in the fact that when prospective employers Google his name they’ll find that quote.

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  1. gordon.dewis.ca | Looking back at the week and forward to the weekend (March 04, 2011 @ 12:53)

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