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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

An Open Letter to Chancellor Gora

(This letter was written by the committee opposing the parking fee increase)

Dear Chancellor Gora:

Now that the parking increase negotiations have ended in failure, we feel that we can address you directly. After seven negotiating sessions your final proposal-increases from $3.50 to $5.00/day, $6.00/day and $7.00/day over three successive years, with 5% annual increases forever after-differs from the original proposal only in its one-year delay. Thus, in our view, whether the university bargained in good faith remains very much in doubt.

Here is an outline of what employee unions and student representatives proposed:

* A sliding scale fee structure to be implemented in January, 2002 with a small increase at the bottom and corresponding increases going up the scale

* Joint lobbying efforts by the campus administration, unions and students to secure state funding to repair the garage

* Elimination of inappropriate expenditures in the Parking and Transportation Trust Fund

* Re-negotiation of the costs associated with the JFK Library bus

* Reassessment of the campus center bus

* Implementation of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Rideshare program

We know you have received approximately 5,500 petition signatures (and they keep coming in), as well as many direct and personal expressions of concern sent to you in the waning days of negotiations. In light of your apparently automated e-mail response to the wide range of these personal communications, we suspect that you may not have been fully apprised of our positions as they were presented at the bargaining table.

Your e-mail response reads as follows:

I understand your concerns and frustration with the university’s position; but who is to pay for the repairs to the garage if the state won’t? Who, if not the users? We have not raised the fee since 1993 and now have $30,000,000 worth of repairs to the garage. We are going to borrow $10,000,000 and go back to the state for the additional $20,000,000. Raising the fee only pays the debt service on the $10,000,000! We still have to get an additional $20,000,000 from the state. This is a difficult issue with no easy answers.

We believe your response contains some important misconceptions, and we would like to use this opportunity to clarify our positions and let you know some of the information we have gathered in the course of these negotiations.

We think you know how unhappy we were with the lack of balanced representation on the management side of the table. It surprised us that with an issue of such import to both the student body and the academic mission of the University, there was not a single management representative from Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, or Enrollment Services. Certainly there was plenty of financial expertise on the management side of the table, but where was the deep familiarity with our student population that would be required for full consideration of basic access issues? Were you aware that not a single impact study, not a single survey was done by Administration and Finance to determine the effect of the parking fee increase on our students?

And did you know that there was no survey of the enrollment services, advising or other student-centered areas to determine the impact of this fee increase? Was there any investigation of the impact on the surrounding community, both in terms of community access to the campus as well as increased student and staff parking on neighboring residential streets? No, there was no attempt whatever to assess the impact this increase would have on students, faculty, staff or the community. Instead of investigation, there were assumptions. Were you aware that the management spreadsheets presented at the table assume a 27% drop-off of drivers to campus as a result of the increases? Was any consideration given to the predictable decline in student enrollment implied by that unspoken assumption?

What ultimately accounts for the administration’s final proposal can be nothing other than insensitivity to the concerns of both students and the lowest-paid staff members. That proposal amounts to a sliding scale in reverse. As administration representatives enthusiastically demonstrated at the table, those who benefit the most are the highest-paid employees, who can take the fullest advantage of pre-tax payroll deductions for parking passes, and who will pay a far, far smaller percentage of their income for parking than the average student. Rather than any sort of reasonable argument, we were presented with nothing but an adamant refusal to entertain any sort of fair sliding scale that might lessen the impact of the increases on students and lower-paid staff. Even Governor Swift’s Nov.30 letter to state employees, in which she rejects previous Republican proposals to increase our health insurance premiums by citing “the compelling point that such a change inequitably affects lower paid employees,” demonstrates a greater sense of economic justice than our own campus administration.

Vice Chancellor Mac-Kenzie’s recent broadcast e-mail message assumes such administrative difficulties with a sliding scale that one might well ask how in the world UMass Amherst has been able to administer one! Has the UMA sliding scale parking fee structure-which was negotiated in good faith with the campus unions-been overtaken by fraud and bureaucracy? One would think that the UMass Boston administrative bureaucracy would be up to this task, since it is proportionally much larger than that at UMass Amherst, and-despite Mr. MacKenzie’s surprising warnings against increasing its size-it is apparently still growing. Administrative inconvenience is clearly a much greater concern for the management side than the plight of students and staff driven to the wall by this major new expense.

As for your rhetorical question asking who, “if not the users” should pay for garage repairs, a sliding scale of payment clearly maintains that principle unchanged: the drivers would still pay, but in a more fair way than the administration proposes. But in an important sense, the idea that the campus community can be divided into those who “use” the parking garage, and those who do not is a common and fundamental misconception. The problems with the garage, as you know, are structural. Due to shoddy construction, twenty-five years of deferred maintenance, and constant water infiltration, the structural members which support the garage levels have become compromised in many places. But those members are also part of a system supporting all the floors above in all the main buildings: it is not simply an area used by drivers alone that has deteriorated, but the structural integrity of sections of the campus used by all. In what sense then are drivers the only “users” of campus structural integrity? And are all those who take the shuttle bus-which is paid for by those who park-