As part of an opportunity to build their own business, with start-up funds provided by a commercial bank, a group of students at Hofstra’s business school auctioned off twenty parking spaces for two months to the highest bidders, with bids beginning at $50.
This simple exercise raises several ethical questions: is it legitimate for the university to approve of a student project that impacts the university as a whole; is it fair for some students to pay for reserved parking spaces while others scramble for theirs; what student services are essential for college life and should be offered equally to all?
First, it seems to me that when a class engages in an exercise, it shouldn’t be at the expense of other students. In this instance, it clearly affected the lives of those who needed parking spaces at school. Twenty free spots were now gone. If the university wants to experiment with parking fees for parking, then this should have been presented as a university policy, not turned over to a few students to support their “quest for knowledge,” as explained by Patrick Socci, dean of the business school.
Let’s say I think it’s educationally beneficial for my students to use the quadrangle in front of a building for the next two months, put up desks al fresco under the assumption that sunlight increases student learning but in so doing this experiment deprives others from sitting on the benches or crossing the square. This wouldn’t be fair and people would rightly be upset.
Policy around parking is worth looking at, though. Hofstra’s policy of free parking isn’t universal. Here faculty, administration and students obtain permits from public safety at no cost, then park anywhere in designated spots. Some of those places are reserved exclusively either for administration or faculty.
There may be an ethical justification to change the overall approach. After all, only those who live in dorms are charged for living in them. Student housing isn’t free, so I’m not sure why student parking should be. Non-car users don’t subsidize dorm users and I don’t see why those who pay for dorms should subsidize those who commute by car.
I’m also not sure that faculty and administrators should be in a privileged position in regards to parking. Just as students should allocate their time properly to get to class on time, so should administrators and faculty. In fact, they should be better at time management than students.
As for bidding on parking spaces—why stop there? Why not offer early registration to the highest bidder or guarantee access to classes with the best teachers for an extra fee or provide better seating for an additional surcharge or have students pay per minute for advisement with faculty or for reserving the prime tables in the cafeteria?
Bidding for these kinds of services opens up invidious distinctions that are odious to the ethical order. Hierarchy and privilege have a place when they enhance the harmonious, efficient and fair functioning of the social order. So allowing business students to experiment in the way they did is morally questionable; students paying for parking is ethically desirable, as is doing away with faculty and administer reserved spots; and bidding for privileges on campus creates a class structure that the university should have no hand in making.