Tom Sawyer and Parking Fees

Dr. Rick Eckstein

You probably missed it. I did at first. But buried on page 25 of the April Blueprints issue was a brief announcement that faculty-staff parking fees (on-campus) are increasing next year, apparently to $150. Since this is the first increase in 14 years, I feel fortunate indeed that I am asked to pay so little to come to work, just like Tom Sawyer’s friends felt so fortunate to be charged only a quarter for the privilege of whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence. I’m sure most of my colleagues share this gratitude. Thus, I’m a bit surprised the fee increase wasn’t publicized more prominently, thereby giving us something else to celebrate at the annual VQI faculty-staff picnic.

Skeptics in the audience might claim it is no coincidence that this announcement came after the University Senate wrapped up its substantive business for the year. As if the Senate ought to be involved with an issue that affects almost every person working at Villanova. Likewise, just because the Faculty Congress’ last meeting of the year was a few days before the Blueprints announcement does not mean that its “Salary, Benefits, and Terms of Employment Committee” (of which I am a member) would have cared about parking fees. The committee might even have suggested a bigger fee increase since parking in multi-level structures is a rare opportunity for employees of any university.

And don’t even think about bringing the VQI apparatus into this discussion. Sure, its mission, goals, and principles include “sharing information,” “empowerment,” and “continuous improvement of everyone’s work processes.” But those ideals have nothing to do with a university-wide discussion of parking fees and, instead, are better realized by things like the 2003 “birthday party” celebrating ten years of VQI. Besides, if anybody wanted to maintain, reduce, or eliminate the fee for coming to work, surely they would have submitted an on-line VQI form indicating that preference and it would have turned into policy toot sweet.

You skeptics in the audience may also challenge the substantive necessity of charging Villanova employees a parking fee. After all, very few universities in this area charge their employees for parking. Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Immaculata, Eastern, Cabrini, Swarthmore, Widener, Neumann, Arcadia, Ursinus and Rosemont have no faculty-staff parking fees. West Chester University charges $30 per year while St. Joseph’s, located in Philadelphia proper, charges full-time faculty and administrators $90 per year and full-time staff $45 per year. Fortunately, Jeff Horton, Director of Public Safety, addressed this incongruity in the Blueprints announcement by proclaiming that our parking fees “are substantially lower than in most major colleges and universities.” Finally, somebody around here is giving us the respect we deserve and not lumping us with third-rate institutions like Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr!

But Villanova’s decision makers are failing to tap the potential of relying on their workers as revenue generators. For instance, my SAC colleagues could be required to use the tennis court port-a-potty unless they are willing to pay for the convenience of indoor facilities. A quarter to get in, plus ten cents for each square of toilet paper. Likewise, pads and pens will no longer be viewed as integral to class preparation and research, and professors will have to provide their own unless they are willing to pay for the convenience: a dollar per pad ($1.25 if they have a left margin line) and fifty cents per writing implement (only five cents for those piece o’ junk pens that say “Villanova University”).

In addition, the university could charge for office space with premium prices attached to views of people smoking in the courtyard and discounts for those who must deal with the train vibrations knocking down their family photos. Those unwilling to pay for the convenience of these offices can prepare for class and meet with students at Roache and O’Brien’s. Finally, don’t even think of picking up that phone and dialing somebody in the English Department when you can damn well walk up there and see the person directly (the elevator is now two dollars per ride).

There’s also something honorable about a parking fee system that does not discriminate against people because of their organizational location. At Villanova, we treat the $12,000 per year food service worker just like the $25,000 secretary, the $50,000 professor, and the $203,946 (as of 2002) VP for Institutional Advancement. Obviously, those Jesuits at St. Joseph’s haven’t figured out that the lower parking fees for staff contributes to their lack of self esteem. I’m sure many of them would much prefer working and parking at Villanova where they can be treated exactly the same as the big shots.

Interestingly, I just got back from the annual benefits fair where I was surprised to find no table giving away neoprene can coolers emblazoned with a picture of our two multi-level garages and the slogan “Parking is a Privilege.”

Hopefully, like Tom Sawyer’s friends, we will soon understand that some human activities have a unique intrinsic value that go beyond monetary value. Whether it be whitewashing a fence or parking near our jobs, there is really no way to quantify the deeper meaning of these experiences.

Oh, and I almost forgot: rumor has it that, in the name of still more egalitarianism, student parking fees are also going up $50 per year. Y’all have a good summer.

Dr. Rick Eckstein teaches courses in Sociology, Peace & Justice, and Honors. Next year he will be riding his bike to work.