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Do Professors “Deserve” Better Parking?

State a moral case to a ploughman and a professor. The former will decide it as well, and often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.
Thomas Jefferson’s letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, from Paris, August 10, 1787.

For a day or two last week, we had a spirited debate on Bored@Baker as to whether all center-of-the-campus parking spaces should be reserved for the faculty. An absolute priority for professors would seem to me to be a “no-brainer,” as we used to say at Bain, but other folks seem to have conflicting goals:

B@B Parking.jpg

Wow. This way of thinking is utterly foreign to me. But it does recall Jon Haidt’s depiction of the “social justice versus truth” conflict in the modern univerity. Haidt wrote:

Aristotle often evaluated a thing with respect to its “telos” - its purpose, end, or goal. The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is health or healing. What is the telos of university?

The most obvious answer is “truth” — the word appears on so many university crests. But increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second and equal telos. But can any institution or profession have two teloses (or teloi)? What happens if they conflict?

Original Poster (just like Phil Hanlon when I spoke to him about this topic several years ago) seems to prize the intrinsic equality of all souls, and woe to the person who makes distinctions based on utility.

Of course, that delicate sensibility is a formula for gaining the respect of administrative assistants and janitors, who will feel good at being valued as highly as our finest professors — but our central goal in imagining the best management possible for Dartmouth is to organize the school so it provides that the best education possible for students and the best possible environment in which faculty can teach and do research.

For example, as any reader knows, I am all for saving money by cutting out waste, but I’d be happy to fund more staff in each department so that our professors do not spend time compiling their own expense reports, doing routine correspondence that could be delegated, and taking out their own trash. Why possibly would you want a $200,000/year professor doing these things when they could be done by a $35,000/year administrative assistant (who parks in Dewey). Such a rational division of labor makes sense for the simple reason that freeing up professors’ time will make Dartmouth a better school.

That social justice warriors worry about the delicate feelings of 9-5 staffers when the College continues to slide due to sub-par salaries and endless decisions that favor the staff over the faculty is proof of Haidt’s assertion that an institution of higher learning can only have one telos — truth — if it wants to prosper in terms of education. Dartmouth long ago decided to serve another master — equity for the staff — hence our ongoing descent into mediocrity.

Addendum: Imagine a professor who would like to drive into the College one afternoon to meet with a student for 20 minutes. If parking is available in the center of campus, then the drive takes five minutes each way. If a ten-minute bus ride from and back to a satellite parking lot is tacked on to each end of the trip, then the professor, given other engagements, might not have time to come in for the meeting.

Addendum: One of my favorite Dartmouth vignettes concerns Economics Professor Doug Irwin coming to campus to meet a prospective applicant. The student had not yet applied to the College, but Doug, alone among the many professors at different schools to whom the student had written, came in to meet with him. They met on a Saturday — when on-campus parking is plentiful. One has to think that Doug might have made a different choice during the week if he had been relegated to a distant satellite lot. In any event, the student was impressed by Doug’s devotion, applied and was accepted to Dartmouth, and went on to win a Rhodes Scholarship. All because of parking.

Addendum: A faculty member writes in:

Putting aside the disrespectful and troubling tone of some of these students’ remarks, most of them miss the point. This is not about equality for all Dartmouth employees, but just the opposite.

Non-faculty staff, administrative assistants and building attendants all normally arrive at 8 AM. They are then “privileged” to take all the available spaces (which usually fill by 9). A professor trying to get to her 11 AM or 2 PM class must park offsite and take a shuttle. So it is faculty who are being rendered of lesser status in the current arrangement.

Nor is this about additional time for a professor’s research or whatever. If a student wants to meet with me at 1:00 PM (because “she can’t make my office hours”) and I would have to come in, take a shuttle, etc., I won’t do it. If I could drive directly to my office…

The result is that it’s the students who are losers. I can easily just stay home and pursue my reading, research, and class preparation.

Addendum: Senior members of the faculty have reported to me that twenty or thirty years ago, even under the present egalitarian parking rules, parking was freely available for everyone in the center of campus. However the huge growth of non-faculty staff has far outpaced the availability of parking — hence the need for satellite lots.

Addendum: A tipster writes in:

Parking prepared a detailed plan to give central spaces to faculty. The plan (complete with maps and actual usage consideration) was presented to several faculty and administrators this year. Dever killed it because she didn’t want to alienate the staff.

Addendum: Another alumnus writes in to describe the universality of the parking problem. Here’s an anecdote about Berkeley:

A funny story from a professor about another professor who has a handicapped sticker. He arrives on campus early in the morning and takes one parallel spot. He then comes back out later in the morning and moves his car forward into a handicapped parallel spot so his professor friend can take the spot he was saving. The professor who relayed this was not at all happy about this situation.


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