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Faculty against $400M parking deal, despite OSU’s affirmations

Abby Sweet / Lantern photographer

Ninety Ohio State faculty members have spoken out against the administration for sending out an official request for proposals (RFP) to private companies interested in managing campus parking operations.

Faculty members from 44 different departments ranging from political sciences and geography to history signed a letter crafted by Enrico Bonello, professor of plant pathology, Paul Beck, professor of political sciences and Linda Lobao, professor of rural sociology and geography. All three are members of University Faculty Council.

The letter was in response to President E. Gordon Gee’s email sent out Monday evening to students and faculty members, describing the RFP and its processes.

“We strongly disagree with this interpretation, because parking services are essential for student access to classes, faculty access to students and staff access to work,” the letter states. “But even if we agreed, we believe this proposal is not in the best interest of OSU for several reasons.”

The faculty members compared the one-time payment the private parking company would give to OSU to a loan.

“This deal is equivalent to a loan to OSU, repaid for the next 50 years with the foregone revenue that OSU would have received if it retained control of parking. Instead, that money would go to the private operator, in addition to whatever additional amount the operator could raise from higher prices or greater volume,” the faculty members said in the letter. “This loan would be repaid by a captive market of students, their parents, staff, faculty and alumni, at fee levels that the parking operator would be permitted to raise well above the average increases of the recent past.”

Gee said the review process will begin when the proposals are received.

“Once we get (the RFP) back, we’ll have discussions with the student leadership, with the staff leadership, with the faculty leadership and we’ll explain exactly what we have,” Gee said. “And then we’ll make a decision.”

Under the proposed parking privatization plan, the operator would be required to maintain, not improve service levels, the faculty members argue in the letter.

“Meanwhile, OSU would retain responsibility for many of the expenses now paid for with parking revenues. It would also acquire unknown new compliance monitoring and, possibly, litigation costs. When this revenue source now obtained by OSU for parking disappears, how would the administration cover these costs? They would need to divert money from elsewhere, or raise other fees from students, staff and faculty,” the letter states.

Furthermore, the professors said the parking privatization plan would not reap any benefits the administration is claiming that it will reinvest to its academic core.

“However, a financial analysis shows that unless the private operator were willing to lend OSU far more than $400 million, there would be much less money available than the administration has claimed to invest in the academic core – if any,” the letter states.

The letter also used examples from Chicago and Indianapolis to point out flaws in parking privatization.

“As has been the case in prior experiments of this sort (e.g., in Chicago and Indianapolis), the preeminent concern of the private operator is profit for itself and a group of financial investors, and not necessarily good services priced in a fair manner,” the faculty members said in the letter.

It goes on to discuss the $200 million lawsuit that Chicago was threatened with this month because the city allowed a private company to construct a new garage that was arguably in violation of its original contract.

Gee said that the university is still weighing its options, and even as a self-proclaimed proponent of the parking deal, he has not made a decision yet.

“Speculating on what’s going to happen, all I can say is if they don’t meet that $375 million criteria, with the other things we’ve put in, then we simply won’t do it,” Gee said. “No one knows what is going to happen with this. I haven’t made up my mind myself … Those who oppose it have already made up their mind based on incomplete facts.”

Another issue that the faculty members discussed is the issue of the private party not being located in Ohio and the money not being used to stimulate and boost Ohio’s economy.

“The Wall Street Journal reports that two of the bidders for the OSU parking revenues are the Carlyle Group and Macquarie Group Ltd., the former based in New York City and the latter in Australia and the other two qualified bidders are also based in Australia,” the letter states. “Thus, revenues paid for parking by OSU workers and students would likely flow out of Ohio instead of staying here at home.”

The faculty members argue that socially and legally, it would have echoing consequences for the university.

“It also raises very important questions about the legal and social implications of privatizing public infrastructure,” it said. “There must be other, more beneficial, and more innovative ways to deal with funding for the university, and we encourage OSU’s leaders to pursue them.”

Ellen Dannin, a professor of law and distinguished faculty scholar from Penn State University, will be speaking on OSU’s campus Wednesday night about the possibilities of privatizing parking and what it means for the university.

Dannin will be at McPherson Lab from 4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m and will stay for a Q-and-A session after.

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