A dear friend, the late and wise James Valesh, once quipped that the first duty of a university is to collect parking fees. Suddenly, a number of irritating and baffling situations that I had often encountered in life started to make sense. Subsequently, I returned to academic life for 13 years of medical education followed by a faculty appointment. The parking situation never improved.

The excuse for the expense and complexity is always “parking is required to be self-sustaining.” I’ve been associated with enough businesses to know how easy it is to shift revenues and expenses around. I worked at a university medical center for a number of years, and the Parking Services offices were just about the most opulent on campus — certainly nicer than those occupied by, say, academic department chairs.

It is also often true that students pay a hugely disproportionate amount of parking fees — far more than faculty and staff and the same institution — yet are often ghettoized to the most undesirable spaces. Though I mostly biked to school when I was a medical student, I once purchased a very expensive permit because a project I was doing required that I be able to park close to a specific lab. A few days after the start of the term, when most of the parking permits had already been sold (“no refunds!”), the university re-painted the parking lot to make all the appropriate parking spaces “staff only.”

Now my youngest son is touring universities. I’ve been going along, and I have to say that things don’t appear to be any better. Every campus we’ve visited so far has had some kind of glitch with the parking.

We’re scheduled to tour one campus tomorrow, and I’ve received an email with information we’ll need for the tour. There’s a link to a document titled “where to park.” The link is broken, and a search doesn’t find the page either. Then they talk about how easy it is to park using their super-cool app, and they link to a twelve page document outlining how to get and install the app. When I saw the title, “On-Campus Parking App 7 Step Tutorial” (seven!) I thought they were kidding — but it’s actually even more than 7 steps as several of the “steps” actually involve multiple separate and largely unrelated operations. Worse, when I looked up the app on my phone’s store, there were page after page after page of one-star reviews with a common theme: the app often simply does not work. It will refuse to let you pay for parking, or charges you more than you need to pay, or takes your money but you still get a parking citation because… reasons.

I have a rule in life that if an organization treats you badly when they’re trying to get your business, you cannot expect them to suddenly become reasonable after they have your money. When prospective students are touring campuses, it’s one of the few times that administrators are open and friendly. Yet even then, when they’re trying to court your business, the parking office can’t seem to be bothered to care.


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