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IUPUI students, faculty keep watch on parking issue

May 4, 2013

Facing opposition from students, faculty and staff, Indiana University slowed its decision on whether to privatize more than 45,000 parking spaces in Indianapolis and Bloomington.

But campus watchdogs are wary of the administration’s summer agenda.

“When they want to do something they know the faculty and students don’t like, they normally do it over the summer,” said Thomas Marvin, associate professor of English at IUPUI.

McRobbie IU President Michael McRobbie received 2,000 opposition letters and petition signatures.

The university’s academic year ended May 3, and the IU Board of Trustees’ next meeting will be June 20-21 in Fort Wayne.

Former IU Chief Financial Officer Neil Theobald began studying a long-term lease of parking facilities last summer, after The Ohio State University landed $483 million for a 50-year deal. IU theoretically could use the upfront money to increase student aid, hire more professors, or carry out campus master plans.

The idea generated strong opposition among faculty and staff in Bloomington, and it ignited a student-activist group at IUPUI, where more than 90 percent of students drive to class.

Indiana lawmakers also took notice, and the new budget requires the governor, upon recommendation from the budget committee, to approve terms of any state college deal to “monetize” a capital asset. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown said legislators “just want to be informed” about long-term plans for state-funded facilities.

“It’s essentially a tuition hike for students at IUPUI,” said Xander Gieryn, a leader of the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, a revival of the 1960s leftist group.

Students at IUPUI pay $252 for an annual parking pass, while faculty and staff pay $636. A leaked copy of an internal study shows that IU would look to bring those fees up to the median of other urban commuter schools over five years.

So if rates started increasing next fiscal year, students would pay $667.74, and faculty and staff would pay $862.50 by the end of 2018. IU would also want the option to raise rates above the benchmark and share in that additional revenue, according to a list of key contract terms compiled by a university committee.

The terms, a sort of contract wish list, also state that the concessionaire should offer a lower-cost option for lesser-earning university employees.

“IUPUI may need to raise its parking rates at some point,” Gieryn acknowledged. “However, there needs to be the accountability to students and flexibility with that.” With a private operator in charge for the next 30 to 50 years, he fears students will be left out of the discussion.

IUPUI would generate the bulk of revenue for a concessionaire. The campus, which includes the IU medical center, has about 25,000 spaces that brought in $17.1 million in fees and fines last fiscal year ended June 30. Bloomington’s 20,304 spaces generated $5.9 million.

IU spokesman Mark Land said interim CFO MaryFrances McCourt’s recommendation to the trustees would come in June at the earliest, but there’s been no decision made on the timing.

Administrators await the results of a facilities study and revenue forecast by Walker Parking Consultants, which has been involved in a number of parking privatization deals.

Land called IU’s decision-making process “thoughtful, deliberative and transparent.”

“We have heard and are considering a significant amount of input on this issue from many people,” Land said.

Opponents disagree about the transparency. Gieryn said his group tried to obtain meeting minutes of the group advising McCourt, the University Parking Steering Committee, and couldn’t even confirm whether the record exists.

In classic fashion, the IUPUI students on April 12 delivered 2,000 letters and petition signatures to IU President Michael McRobbie. Gieryn said they were greeted by McRobbie’s secretary and seven police officers.

Land said the police presence was a precaution because the administration wasn’t sure how many students would show up. The previous day, 200 students demonstrated on campus, and the week before, a group of protesters converged on the provost’s office unannounced.

The union representing support staff on the Bloomington campus, Communication Workers of America Local 4730, gathered more than 1,140 of the petition signatures against privatization, and Bloomington faculty have passed a resolution against it.

The IUPUI Faculty Council does not oppose privatization, but passed a resolution asking the university to share its data and hold a public-comment period. Neither has happened yet.

“If they were to make a decision during the course of the summer, they certainly would not have followed the spirit of this resolution,” said David Craig, associate professor of religious studies, who presented the resolution.•

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