MARYVILLE, Mo. — The deadline for her term paper was less than a week away before senior Lynn Flaherty got down to work.
Instead of loading a backpack with notebooks and pens, she pulled a chair up to the computer in her dorm room. Instead of thumbing through a card catalogue in the library, she riffled through reference material without leaving her room.
Three years after Northwest Missouri State University installed a computer terminal in every residence hall room and faculty office, the "electronic campus" has transformed life for the school's 5,900 students.
"It does everything. You don't have to go anywhere," said Flaherty, a psychology major from Des Moines. "I don't like to hang out in the library, and this means I don't have to."
"My brother goes to Drake and he has to go to an office to use a word processor. I just chuckle when he talks about waiting in line for computers."
Northwest Missouri is the first--and so far, only--public college or university in the United States to put a terminal in every room and office, then tie them together with a software system designed for college life.
"Without leaving the residence hall, kids can access library information and scholarship and job postings," said Robert Henry, a school spokesman. "They can write and edit papers for classes, balance their checkbook and find out what's going on around campus. They can even look up their phone bills and see how much they owe."
The faculty also approves. "I write tests, record grades, look up student transcripts and class rolls. Instead of calling the registrar's office, you can look it up on the computer," said chemistry Professor Harlan Higginbotham.
If he lost his computer, he said, "I'd just have to retire. A secretary wants two days' notice to type an exam. But a computer isn't like that."
The system's 2,400 terminals represent a techno invasion at the campus in the rolling farm country of extreme northwest Missouri. The electronic campus didn't come cheap, and that is one explanation why it remains an anomaly.
The school spent $2.4 million to set up the electronic campus, and officials have spent $600,000 more since then. The initial cost to furnish each dorm room with a terminal--now about 1,500 of them--was about $300 per unit. The university recoups its costs by charging each student $25 per semester.
"Getting campuses computer-oriented is a high priority, but it's a costly item. The shelf lives are not as long as you'd like," said Bob Aaron, spokesman for the National Assn. of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges. "And there is a competition between the two strains, the high-tech user versus the general user."
Still, other schools have taken the plunge. Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh may be "the most computer-intensive university in the world," said William Arms, vice president for academic affairs.
"Our basic principle is that they pay a lot of money to come to Carnegie-Mellon and the computers are just like the libraries and playing fields; they are things that come with the campus," Arms said.
Students there are not provided with terminals in their rooms. Most buy their own so they can hook into the university network, Arms said.
At Northwest Missouri, off-campus students must buy their own or use terminals on campus; more and more courses require their use. On campus, computers are universal. The 2,800 students living in the 13 residence halls need only share terminals with roommates.
"Your patience is a lot greater waiting 30 minutes in your own room instead of walking across campus to wait in line at some building," said Jon Rickman, director of computer services.
In many disciplines, "electronic workbooks" are available. Students can call up a program to quiz themselves on things like chemistry problems.
"The program gives them explanations and then asks them some questions," Higginbotham said. "You get immediate feedback on what you're doing right or wrong."
In the English department, the word processing function has improved the quality of writing seen by chairman Jim Saucerman.
"It frees them up to write, instead of dealing with the mechanics of writing," he said. "It doesn't mean perfection because students who are careless with a pen are careless with a keyboard. But overall, the finished product is better because they have more freedom to write."
University President Dean Hubbard is proud of his electronic campus: "Technology is going to penetrate deeper into our lives. We need students to be as comfortable with computers as their parents are with their telephone."
There are signs that is happening. Electronic mail is the system's most popular function. Basically a message system, electronic mail is a way to talk to old friends and meet new ones.
"As a freshman, I was really into the e-mail," said senior Stephen King, an art major from Maryville. "I used to stay on campus just to use it."
With such reliance on an electronic campus, what happens when the system goes down? No one knows--it's never happened.
"We take it down every other month, for about four hours on a Friday afternoon, for scheduled maintenance," Rickman said. "We've never had it crash on us. We have so many backups that if one part of the system fails, the others pick up the slack."