Proposed parking fee faces faculty and staff backlash

The final weeks of 2017 at Guilford consisted of finals, winter break and a proposed faculty and staff parking fee.

On Dec. 11, the Office of Human Resources sent an email to Guilford faculty and staff stating that beginning on Jan. 1, they would need to pay a monthly fee for campus parking. 10 days later, President Jane Fernandes sent a follow-up email cancelling the implementation of the parking fee.

“After careful consideration and reflection, I have decided to remove those pending charges,” wrote Fernandes. “Free parking will remain for all faculty and staff.”

Guilford administration implemented the parking fee as a way to balance the College’s budget.

“We looked at a hundreds of things when we were looking, ‘How do we keep (get this) budget balanced?’” said Vice President of Administration and Finance Len Sippel.

An alternative that Sippel mentioned was laying off a staff or faculty member.

“We would’ve laid off another person,” said Sippel. “We put (the parking fee) in right at the end, it was hard to decide and … it saved a position.”

During the 10 days between the emails from HR and Fernandes, many faculty and staff expressed grievances over the proposed fee.

“The faculty of Guilford College states its unqualified opposition to the recently-announced policy change instituting a parking fee for all employees at Guilford,” wrote several faculty members of the Benefits Committee in a minute that was approved at a faculty meeting on Dec. 15. “We find the policy inconsistent with standard practices at other small liberal arts colleges, imposed without following established governance practices, tiny in terms of its possible impact on college revenues, difficult to enforce, and discriminatory against the college’s lowest-paid workers.”

Professor of English Jim Hood is a member of the Benefits Committee.

“It would not have occurred to me to institute a parking fee at Guilford, where there is no shortage of parking,” said Hood.

Free parking is listed as a faculty and staff benefit in the most recently updated Summary of Benefits and Services for Full-Time Guilford College Faculty and Staff. When the Guilford administration proposed a rollback of this benefit, the Benefits Committee was not consulted.

“Presumably the Benefits Committee should be consulted when a benefit is going to be altered,” said Hood. “I think one of the objections that I and some other faculty members had to the parking fee implementation was that that had not been discussed at the Benefits Committee at all.”

Sippel felt as though consulting the committee was unnecessary.

“This was a budget action, not a benefits action, and frankly I disagree that that’s necessarily under the purview of Benefits Committee,” said Sippel.

Hood also objected to the implementation of the parking fee without a sufficient Greensboro public transportation network to serve as an alternative to parking on campus.

“We don’t have a sufficient public transportation infrastructure to support, particularly, people coming to work at a variety of different times a day,” said Hood.

Professor of Geology Dave Dobson shared Hood’s objections and raised his own about the practicality and fairness of the parking fee.

“This was coming … out of the blue … it was a weird way to raise a very small amount of money,” said Dobson. “If you look at all the faculty and staff, and you figure $10 a month, you know there are only a couple hundred employees … it’s in the neighborhood of $30,000.”

In the Benefits Committee minute that was approved on Dec. 15, faculty members estimated that the highest possible revenue generated by the parking fee would be $36,000, which is approximately .06 percent of Guilford’s annual budget.

Sippel confirmed that $30,000 was approximately the amount of money Guilford would make from the parking fee during its first year of implementation.

“It seemed like a whole lot of injury for not much benefit in terms of what it was going to do to how people felt about working here,” said Dobson.

The fee would have consisted of a monthly payroll deduction, the amount depending on whether an employee was full-time or part-time and salaried or hourly. A full-time, salaried employee would have paid $10 a month, a full-time, hourly employee would have paid $8 a month and part-time staff that work 16 to 31.5 hours a week would have paid $6 a month. Staff members that work under 15.5 hours a week or faculty and staff that carpool with at least one other employee would not have had to pay for parking.

“It wasn’t a big fee, but it was a regressive fee,” said Dobson. “That means that a person who’s one of our lower paid employees, they’re going to end up paying a much higher percentage of their total income for parking than somebody who’s making three or four or five times as much as they are.

“This was backwards and it came along with some other things that were also not well described, and in some cases pretty significantly difficult for people.”

Dobson is referring to changes in the faculty healthcare and retirement plans.

“It was just this family of large, unexplained things that happened at the end of the year,” said Dobson. “That sort of set the mood … for all of them to kind of snowball into some dissatisfaction.

“But … (the administration) listened and rolled it back, and are thinking in terms of other things now.”

Fernandes expressed her willingness to explore alternatives to the parking fee.

“We are looking at a combination of small steps we can take to offset that particular revenue loss,” wrote Fernandes in an email interview with The Guilfordian. “As is the case every year, our aim is to make the most prudent choices possible in ensuring we have a balanced budget.”