We generally stick with the vendor supplied version (ie the Debian package). While installing extra / non-standard software is simple in a small-scale environment, in our environment it's very important to keep things as consistent and stable as possible. We do occasionally build our own packages when a newer release of something is important, but we don't have the time or energy to maintain packages for everything.
Python should be pretty trivial to install in your home directory, and I doubt it would take up a significant portion of your disk space.
The new release of Debian has Python 2.1. You can request to be moved to a machine running a newer release, or wait - we should have all the machines upgraded within the next month or so.