Students and parking: a complicated relationship

Image: Many students have complained about the Fulford Hall parking lot being off-limits to students 24/7 despite the lot, located by Smith and Cannon dorms, is often empty outside of business hours. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).

By Fleming Smith


Parking at Sewanee can be endlessly frustrating for some students who have trouble finding parking near their residence halls and complain of fines that compound into hundreds of dollars a semester. However, the previous system may be even more shocking: a three-strike policy where students’ keys were confiscated for six months after three parking violations.

Currently, the policy uses a financial deterrence after multiple violations. After the second parking ticket, $50 is added on top of the fine, and with each subsequent ticket after that, $100 will be added.

According to former Dean of Students Eric Hartman, who now serves as Vice President for Risk Management and Institutional Effectiveness, the Dean of Students office discontinued the three-strike policy in the early 2000s “after determining that the practice was ineffective, paternalistic, and cumbersome.” He said the tiered approach “has been much more effective” as a deterrent.

The Dean of Students who instituted the change, Rob Pearigen, told The Purple that “it was very time-consuming and troublesome for the office staff to try to keep up with keys being checked in and out of the office.” In 2003, a Sewanee Purple article cites him as saying that “the policy is breeding discontent among our students and an increased sense that we’re too paternalistic.”

The discontent over parking has not ended, however. This year has seen a high amount of citations so far, according to Sewanee Police Department Chief Marie Ferguson. When The Purple requested the number of citations issued in recent years, or even a rough estimate of citations, Ferguson said it would be “impossible” to release a number.

She said they do not record parking citations separately from all of the other citations they issue, though that will change with the new e-ticket system they began this semester.

With some students racking up hundreds of dollars each semester in fines, many have also questioned where that money ends up. Some students have said they thought the fines went directly to the police department.

According to Ferguson and the Dean of Students office, all money for car registrations and parking tickets goes into the “general fund,” which Treasurer Doug Williams explained as the fund for the operating budget for the University, including expenses like financial aid, comprising ¼ of that budget.

When The Purple requested information on just how much students are paying in these fines each year, Williams responded that “The University does not disclose specific revenue sources or expense items except what is disclosed in the audited financial statements.”

The system for parking enforcement doesn’t always run smoothly. At the beginning of this semester, a miscommunication resulted in students not being informed about the process for car registration and when ticketing would begin. While older students remembered the drill, many sophomore students said they were unaware they were required to register their cars again. Car registration costs $105 per year.

When the Dean of Students office, which typically sends out the e-mail about car registration, realized the oversight, they dropped the tickets for that period and extended registration time.

“We said, clearly we’ve made an error, so we need to make that right to students,” Senior Associate Dean of Student Life commented.

As a contrast to student frustrations over parking, the offices in charge of enforcing and regulating parking also showed frustration, particularly over students not reading the policy at all.

“Most of the time, students come in and they will have had several citations, and they say, ‘What am I going to do,’ but they still haven’t read the parking policy. I feel like that piece is huge. You can’t park in compliance if you don’t know the policy,” Ferguson said.

She added, “I think that’s the big thing, just reading the policy. It’s alarming, the amount of students who tell me they haven’t read it, but they’re standing in front of me with a handful of tickets.”

Ferguson encouraged students who feel they’ve been wrongly ticketed to pursue an appeal, an online process students can use within 48 hours of receiving a ticket.

Spurlock echoed Ferguson’s comments, saying that parking is a “community issue,” and the escalating fine system is a way of deterring behavior that’s unacceptable in a community.

On students who come into their office complaining of paying high fines, she said, “I think we both feel empathy for them and we feel the need to hold them accountable. And when people are really upset, they’re often not considerate of the feelings of the person they’re talking to, they can be short or rude or yell.” She added, “Sometimes it’s misplaced frustration.”

She emphasized that while students will certainly have difficulty using their car to drive to classes, another policy change from the early 2000s, the policy “becomes less restrictive” outside of the Monday-Friday business hours. Spurlock encouraged students to keep in mind faculty and staff members who need those parking spots for work.

However, some parking lots still remain off limits for students at all times, such as the parking lot for admissions building Fulford Hall by the Smith and Cannon dorms. Students have long campaigned for the ability to park there outside of business hours, as the lot often remains empty yet still prohibited to students.

When asked, Spurlock provided The Purple with three years of car registration data. Up to October 12, 1,125 students had registered their cars for this academic year. Students must re-register every year; University employees have not had to re-register since 2016, when parking stickers were changed. 1,110 employees registered their cars in 2016, compared to 1,335 students in that academic year. The student number includes re-registration when students move from one dorm to another during a year, which does not carry an additional fee.

Interim Director of Facilities Management William Shealy told The Purple that current numbers of parking spots on campus include 1,220 spots for student parking and 419 for faculty and staff. This does not include spots marked for service, handicap, visitor, or 30-minute parking.

While the number for student parking spots covers the amount of students who had registered by October, that doesn’t guarantee students a parking spot near where they live.

The evolution of parking on campus, including the elimination of some parking on central campus over the years, has been “aimed to discourage the unnecessary use of vehicles,” Hartman explained.

He emphasized that this change was student-driven, citing a student statement that “Sewanee doesn’t having a parking problem but a walking problem.” In response, “the parking policy then focused on providing a single parking space for students at their residence hall, discontinuing a policy which permitted students to drive from some residence halls and park on campus during regular business hours,” he explained.

Wherever students stand on the changes made to parking over the past two decades, there are a few takeaways. Read the policy, then form an opinion on it. It’s clear that students don’t know much about parking at Sewanee, other than its inconveniences. However, data on just how much students are paying in fines, which administrators referred to as a “revenue source” for the University, is still a missing piece of this puzzle.