Monday, September 13, 2010

Park is Not Neutral

Parking on a University campus is always a passionate issue.  In many cases, the issue is the number of spots; in other cases it is the quality of spots.  There is a magnetic attraction—for faculty, students, staff and administration—to a parking spot adjacent to the building that one will be in.  And there is a priority order in place at many colleges and universities regarding who can park where.  Often, even on campuses where there are enough spots, there is a broad base support for construction of a multi-story parking garage so that more people can park more closely to the center of a campus.  My feeling has always been that parking matters but that faculty lines, classrooms, labs, instructional equipment, data bases should be accorded a higher priority. In fair weather, there is broad acceptance of this order of priorities.

On some campuses (as is the case in some cities), there is a protocol to parking.  Certain spots are reserved for compact cars, or hybrid cars, and in certain lots you are told to always park nose in and occasionally, you are told to back into a spot and park nose out.  I am a nose out person whether it is required or not.  In fact, unless it is forbidden to park nose in, I will always park nose out.  I just think it is safer to back into a spot than it is to back out of a spot.  A number of years ago, in an earlier decade, a senior manager articulated his philosophy of parking at a meeting with all those individuals who reported directly to him.  If you park nose in, you are anxious to get to work; and if you park nose out you are anxious to go home.

To this day, I don’t know if the manager who made these comments was serious or was kidding.  However, I can tell you, I decided to conclude that the person was pulling our legs (or our tires).  For me to come to a different conclusion, would also have required a psychological judgment.  As an economist, I strive not to make judgments of that type.  The effect, however, of the parking pronouncement was stunning.  The next morning in the parking lot that I parked in, where previously about one-third of the cars had parked nose out, there was only one car parked nose out, and that was mine.  Unbelievable!

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been that surprised.  There is an important lesson for all of us in this true nose in/nose out story.  Senior management in education, in government, in industry, has very considerable power and influence.  The power to change parking direction is just one small example.  In exercising that power, we should always take the steps necessary to make sure we exercise our power and use our influence as wisely as possible.

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