Annie-Laurie Blair,, Clinical Professor of Journalism

March 29, three dozen Miami University journalism students and I piled into cars in the Bachelor Hall parking lot.

We were taking an extra-curricular field trip to Local 12 News in Cincinnati to observe noon news show production and to lunch with reporters and station executives.

As we got ready to leave Oxford, I noticed one carpool was nearly empty because of no-shows.

With gas at $3.89 a gallon, I didn’t want to waste college students’ money.

“Let’s leave your car here – you guys will fit in other vehicles,” I suggested to the driver, a first-year.

But she had no valid parking tag for this faculty/staff lot.

“I think you can park without a tag at Peffer Park,” I suggested. “Or we could just put my faculty tag on your car and leave it here.”

The first-year grimaced.

“I just don’t want to get a parking ticket.”

I glanced at the time: 11:05 a.m., with a 50-minute drive to make the noon news.

I handed her my faculty parking tag and she left her car in my faculty red-zone spot next to Bachelor.

Everyone agreed the field trip was excellent.

The return to campus three and a half hours later … not so much.

The first-year’s car had three parking tickets – one accusing her basically of stealing a faculty parking tag, which could lead to disciplinary action. Her tire was immobilized with a police boot.

Fine to remove the boot: $200.

In the Parking Services office in the CAB, the customer service representative was unimpressed with my apology.

“You should have called to tell us what you’d done,” she scolded loudly.

“I was one professor on a field trip with 36 students,” I answered, lamely.

“I had other responsibilities on my mind.”

In my head, though, I wondered: “Why didn’t they call ME if they thought my parking tag had been stolen?”

The representative reiterated the $200 fine to remove the boot. The first-year quietly said she didn’t have $200.

I asked to see the boss.

But George McDonald, a Parking Services director, had no sympathy either.

Instead, he stonily lectured us for 10 minutes, as the first-year wiped her eyes, about parking regulations, Miami staff who lend their tags to children and friends, and, he hinted darkly, parking tag counterfeiters who may be at work.

No harm was done here, I pointed out to McDonald: Nothing stolen, no one injured, no damage.

Why can’t you dismiss these fines now that you know the circumstances, I asked.

McDonald frowned and shook his head. Showed us how to fill out the parking fine appeals paperwork. Agreed to have the boot removed from the car if the first-year would charge the pending $200 fine on her Bursar account.

And here is my point:

Why are Miami faculty, staff and students treated like convicted felons with off-shore bank accounts by our unfriendly Parking Services workers and staggering parking fine structure?

Somewhere along the way, real transportation safety issues on a rural college campus have been redefined by the Almighty Dollar.

The need to collect exorbitant parking fines to pay for lot upkeep, lighting, parking structures and Parking Services staff is so great, apparently, that workers must wander campus checking if cars with legit parking passes, parked in legit parking spots, have a nefarious purpose.

Our basic parking fine is up to five times as much as those at similar colleges.

How many of you students – who pay tuition, room/board and fees that are among the highest nationwide for public universities – have parked outside an academic building for 5 minutes to deliver a paper on deadline to a professor, only to return to a $75 parking fine?

How many low-wage staff and faculty, like me, have forgotten their parking tag, left a note on the dashboard pleading mercy, yet found a ticket flapping on the windshield?

Even corporate recruiters are slapped with steep fines.

My Cincinnati neighbor, Jen, is an executive with Fifth Third Bank and a Miami alum.

The bank’s recruiters, she said, have learned the hard way to insist on full-access visitor’s parking passes when they hold interviews at the Farmer School of Business.

Things have gotten out of hand, and Miami is risking its reputation – not to mention donations to its Campaign for Love and Honor – through this thoughtless, abusive behavior.

And when did staff like George McDonald decide that the best way to handle an apologetic professor and a tearful first-year student is to berate them?

It’s time for Miami’s administration to re-examine our parking policies, our fine structure and the customer service sensibilities of our Parking Services staff.

Are you with me?

As for the first-year and her $200 fine, the parking appeals board notified her April 16 that two of three charges had been dropped.

The $75 charge for parking illegally in a restricted area was posted to her Bursar account.

On April 18, I wrote a personal check for $75 and deposited it into her account.