Parking for the Public Good?

By Max Dehon and Paul A. Djupe

The next step in Denison University’s Master Plan for Residence Life is the construction of a new residence hall, which will contain new senior apartments and party spaces, as well as new “social lodges” (whatever these are). However, only half of the students currently on campus will be able to enjoy the new luxuries. As the expected opening of the new buildings will be in the Fall of 2020, current juniors and seniors will not have the opportunity to live in them. As it turns out, it will also be at these students’ inconvenience. With the construction for these new spaces underway, the current upperclassmen have lost approximately 250 parking spaces, forcing them to park away from their current housing.

In order to accommodate these students, the administration has implemented a new parking policy. This policy includes a reimbursement program that will pay students $25 in Denison Dollars to park in overflow parking and $50 in Denison Dollars to remove their car from campus entirely. Let me remind you, it costs $105 (in real dollars) to simply park on campus during the academic year and parking policies have been controversial before. What do students think of this plan?

Gathered from our March 2019 survey, unsurprisingly, juniors and seniors had very little support for the new parking policy. The responses are shown in Figure 1 on a 0-100 scale (100 is “support completely”). The student average is only 35. With a median level of support of 10, most seniors do not want any part of this new policy. Juniors are not far behind them, with a median level of support of 28. Do you blame them? These students will not be able to use any of these new luxuries, and many will lose parking privileges because of this venture. Conversely, sophomores and freshmen had higher levels of support, though not much higher. On average, sophomores had a level of support of just 36, and freshmen had a level of support of 43. Since these students will be the ones that are able to use these new campus luxuries, the support should be higher, right?

Figure 1 – The distribution of support for the parking buyout by class year

No one likes to be inconvenienced, but perhaps students could be encouraged to take the longer view. In the survey, the 483 respondents were randomized into two groups. The first group received a question regarding parking that simply introduced the compensation program without going into detail about the new housing and party spaces. The second group received the same question, but introduced the fact that the loss of parking spaces was due to “Denison building new residence halls and party spaces for students to be ready by fall.” Did that encourage more support?

As shown in Figure 2, the results were surprising. The seniors and sophomores both responded as one would expect, with (very slightly) higher support when reminded of the purpose of the parking inconvenience — new housing and party spaces. However, juniors and freshman responded (again very slightly) more favorably to the question that did not introduce the new housing and party spaces. This is especially surprising for freshman, as they know that they are the ones who will be able to take advantage of the new senior apartments and social lodges in the coming years. But none of these differences were statistically significant – students just can’t be moved from their personal freedoms (as embodied by cars).

Figure 2 – Did a reminder about the housing benefit that created the parking inconvenience increase support?

The results assess the broader the relationship and disconnect between the Denison student body and the administration. While the school is making an investment to improve residence life in the long run with these new housing structures and social spaces, it is at the expense of the current students’ convenience. For many students, their car is a lifeline. It provides a sense of autonomy and freedom in which the student can go and do what they want, when they want. With the loss of parking privileges, students feel that this freedom is being stripped. So when the school decided to offer a reimbursement program for parking passes, was this really the best arrangement that could have been made? The short answer is no. The student body overwhelmingly does not support this new venture.

Further research should be conducted that could include the actual number of students that accepted this reimbursement program. Did they accept the first offer and agree to relocate their vehicle for $25 in Denison Dollars? Or were they willing to remove their vehicle entirely for $50 in Denison Dollars? What class year were the students who accepted and what was their rationale?

Max Dehon is a Political Science major and when he is not stuck on A-Quad, can be found throwing baseballs on Big Red Field.

Paul A. Djupe is a local cyclist who coincidentally has taught social science research methods at Denison for millenia. He started a few years ago in a bid to subsidize collective action.

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