Parking fee debate sparks conversation on campus

Once again, I am trekking through campus in the dark, alone. Paranoia keeps my feet swift and my mind sharp. The rain pelts my face; the wind wrestles with my useless umbrella. I am trudging to my car, cursing commuter life and keeping an eye out for thugs lurking behind shrubs. After three years, I am used to the drudgeries of campus commuting. But, I am always surprised by the stark contrast between the lives of commuters and those of campus residents.

Typically, parking is the hot topic when it comes to widely different college experiences. Commuters budget an extra time allowance for finding a parking spot, and campus residents enjoy the ease of access to class. However, the uproar concerning the recently proposed plans for a hike in parking fees seems to have united these two groups as no other issue can.

In a nutshell, the plan revolves around restructuring the parking zones on campus. New parking spaces will be added, and preparations will be conducted to build Tennessee Tech’s first parking garage. This parking garage will be financed by increasing the fees for all parking spaces on campus.

In addition to the current fees ($20 for students, clerical, and support staff; $50 for faculty and administrative positions), a new fee of $150 will be required for a parking permit. The outer perimeter parking (i.e., parking spaces by the intramurals fields) will cost $93. These fees will continue to increase for the next eight years.

The controversy surrounding this topic has formed a common ground among nearly every sector of the campus community. Faculty and staff, residential students and commuters are all united by a dread of enormous fees to last the greater part of a decade. Voices which typically remain silent are now exercising their right to speak. Our quiet university has transformed into a full-fledged democracy, complete with disgruntlement over the latest tax increase.

Honestly, I have done my fair share in raising my voice against the current parking situation on campus. And while I share the same concerns as a large percentage of the campus community, I am also able to step back and see the positive side of this heated debate.

For one thing, the introduction of this new parking plan has sparked intense discussion throughout the campus body. This is exactly what universities must do. We are here to create discussion, to learn how to analyze differing points of view and make up our own minds. The speculation surrounding this proposal is proof that students and staff alike are engaged in their future on campus. By speaking our concerns, we are demonstrating our belief that our voices have merit and power to cause change. This kind of democracy does not grow out of a utopian society, but rather out of controversy and discontent.

We also need to plan for the future, which includes the inevitable expansion of our dynamic university. We need to budget for more parking, and someone will always be offended or upset to have to pay for a service which they may never have the opportunity to enjoy. This might not be fair, but it is not unrealistic.

However, even the most reasonable fee, or tax, will always be met with disgruntlement without a fair representation from every involved party. Many voices on campus are upset that they did not hear about the plan in the earlier stages of design. While the planning committee is stated to have included members of the student body, the fact that a large majority of students had no idea of the proposed project is evidence that this representation was inadequate. As this plan has met such high opposition, perhaps we can learn from the flaws in design and refine the blueprint for future committees.

The university has always been more than just an institution of higher learning. We students enter as youngsters, fresh and carefree and somewhat naive. Ideally, we graduate as adults, having been exposed to the real world and identified our place in it. Many of us begin to structure our ideals of society while under the influence of our alma mater.

 To that end, discussions such as these ignite within us a passion for involvement. We realize the impact our input can have on an issue, and we see the need to take initiative and speak. According to the Herald-Citizen, the plan has not yet been formally presented for city council approval. We could still see change in this plan. We just need to speak.