Can I have root privileges on my desktop?
Due to security concerns, we do not issue Linux root access to students by default. We will be happy to give you ownership of /usr/local and /etc/X11/xorg.conf so you are able to compile and install Linux programs locally and modify your display settings. In the case that a software installer requires root access, we'll install those packages for you - simply download them and send email to root, noting the location of the packages and any non-default build flags you would like used.
Many users have requested the ability to have root-equivalency to simplify the installation of Debian packages using the package management system; most of these requests are of the nature that they do not really require any special customizations to the code or kernel for the system. In this case, we ask that you actually route these requests through us, so that we can make those packages standard across all CS systems. Although this is somewhat less convenient for users, it helps keep us more aware of what our users need and are using, and acts as a forcing-function on root so that we update all systems and our automated deployments. It ultimately helps users by providing a highly transparent computing environment.
In general, we prefer that root access only be used in cases where the user needs to be updating system source (and running code) on a regular basis as part of their work.