Hit Parade

"Never have I felt closer to God than now." -- Journals columnist Catherine Galasso, feeling the divine presence

NO-PARKING ZONE: When a staff member at St. Louis University cites the campus as being the nicest retirement community he's seen, he's referring to some of the soft touches around the expanding campus that make it seem less like an institution for vigorous, youthful scholarship than a well-tended cemetery, marked by an increasing number of brick walls, imposing gates, statuary and, most remarkably, a variety of bodies of water.

For example, eyebrows were raised when two undersized swimming pools -- ringed during the summer months by palm trees -- took the place of the aging State Apartments last year. Now word has it that a refigured Mill Creek, with a surrounding three-hole golf course, will occupy the land given to the school by HUD, the tract that once held the Laclede Town housing project.

The merits of these unique expansions find differing views on campus, though none takes precedence over the issue of parking garages. Most agree that the school's better looking, more coherent, than it was a decade ago, with the extra land often put to good use. Everyone agrees that a sharp new increase in parking fees is possibly the most divisive issue to hit the campus in years, with three newer garages providing both needed parking spots and a heavy price tag.

In a memo to the school community, James R. Kimmey, executive vice president, sketches out new rates for parking on campus, with full-time faculty and staff seeing the largest jumps -- from around $200 a year to a sliding scale that varies from $360-$900 annually. Kimmey notes that nearly $50 million has gone to "address the parking needs of the University community," with "parking rates (that) have remained unchanged since 1995."

In the new plan, not surprisingly, many of the cheapest spots will be the farthest away -- at the Olive garage, for example, or other remote locales. Those with the most cash will do OK, with reserved spots a short distance from the main campus.

Not surprisingly, much of the SLU community is more than a tad upset.
"Outraged," says one staff member of the general reaction on campus. "I don't know that people see this tied to the other things going on at the campus, honestly. People are very frustrated. It was a very drastic increase. People would have been more receptive to a slight increase. These aren't in stride with the cost-of-living increases of the average salary at SLU.

"The best parking is that much more expensive. The people that (more expensive parking) wouldn't matter to make the most -- $900 for parking may not be much to someone who makes $70,000. For the average person in the support staff, or nontenured faculty, those that make an average of $20,000 a year, single moms, that's a sizable chunk."

The theme of input is one that's sounded by Joseph Hodes, president of the Student Government Association. "The university is a black box," he says. "Data goes in, decisions are made, decisions come out the other side. We have no understanding of how that black box works, other than what we're told in the vaguest, most insulting ways. That's what we're most up in arms about. All of us are the institution. We all profit from its successes. We all suffer by the failures."

Hodes says that a Student Senate meeting will take place tonight, March 24, with a variety of options on the table. He says a vote of no confidence could be taken in regard to the administration, though he hopes it doesn't come to that.

"We'll vote, presumably, on whether to accept or reject the increase," he says. "We'll take it up to and including a no-confidence vote. I don't want it to go that far. We don't want this to be war. Obviously SLU has made great strides, great improvements. But this is the real community they're affecting.

"It's entirely possible that everything the administration says is true. They say everything is for the good of the entire university. We wouldn't know, because they don't tell us. I think it's twofold: One, the decision itself is outrageous; two, it's the way in which the decision was reached. It's this little group of people making decisions, without the input of the broader college community. Every decision is derived by that manner. We've reached the breaking point. Faculty and staff are fit to be tied as well. It hits the entire community, except this small decision-making group."

Sounds as if the administration has plenty more to worry about than finding another basketball coach. The problem is parking, which starts with "P," which rhymes with "T," and that stands for "trouble."

"Faculty, staff and students are all very distressed, angry and disturbed at the unilateral imposition of these parking fees," says one faculty member. "What they do is call into question two issues. One is the safety of people in these distant parking lots. The other is shared governance. The nicest words I've seen on that are, 'no taxation without equal representation.'"

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