It was Tuesday I was aware strongly that I wasn't going to teach for the first time in 23 years, and given a 10-11 year break, since 1972. That's a long time. But I felt such strong relief that any missing of reaching students or doing any literary work with them (or teaching and supervising writing) remained small. I stopped teaching for a number of reasons beyond the new massive changes that are going on where I was teaching (GMU) in both the English and other humanities departments over the past 5 years: 1) distance courses (heavily scams eventually, whatever might be the claim); 2) micromanaging so that the teacher of a composition course even junior level will not be able to assign books or have a topic that is part of a humanities discipline but substitute career and business goals as a way of approaching whatever "discipline" the student might think he or she is going to work in (so that one is required to have assignments handed in on-line so then one can send them direct to a manager-type who will then be able to check out what's happening); 3) more destruction of yet more humanities requirements (which affected me as now not even one general education literarure course is requited of all students), and personal forms of ruthless pressure. Some of these were personal, some having to do with my age, some about me wanting to write and read freely and get to long-term projects I have not been able to get to.
Yet none of all this was directly on my mind as I sat there so relieved. I was relieved because of the near-impossibility of finding parking at GMU any more unless you come in before 8:30 am or are there after 5:00 pm or pay some $600 (the eact sum is in the high $500s) or so a year. A caste system has been instituted which mirrors American life. It's not that there is not enough space for everyone to park -- several large garages have been built -- it's that the places where you may be guaranteed a space have been priced very high and a new system of levels of parking permit built up. Rather like the way Amartya Sen taught us causes famines ... People don't starve because there's not enough food within a country to go round; they starve because they have a precarious entitlement to food based on their money supplies.
When I first started teaching at GMU, all the staff and faculty paid $189 and everyone had similar to equal access to parking anywhere there were spaces. It's true from about 11 to 3 Mon-Thurs you might find it hard to find a space, or it might take 10 minutes or you had to park in a outer lying parking lot, but you found space.
No more. Now there are levels and my parking sticker for $250 last year was plebian, stigmatized in effect. It was just "general parking." That means all sorts of parking lots were not available to me. A couple of small ones reserved for very high faculty members in science -- the Admiral showed me one of these lots on the other side of campus. In one of my classes a couple of years ago, one unlucky student parked in one of them and was hit with a $300 or some such fine. His father was livid and fighting it. I think they lost or the father tired of the games put in front of him (circumlocation offices galore abound at GMU through the astute use of phone answering machines as a first defense and then prevaricating, procrastinating &c&c). Then there are lots reserved for students living on campus. More of these are given to them than represent the percentage of students on campus -- some 40% nowadays. 60% are excluded -- those who are commuters, and they are turned into inferior citizens this way. Less prestigious customers. Then within the lots lots of space reserved for 'fuel efficient cars" or cars with stickers which show several people used them, or spaces reserved for the workers of the private companies who now own and/or run the lots to do work. Most of the time these spaces are empty. You can be in a faculty or student (commuter student) lot and find as many as 20 empty spaces and more devoted to these noble goals.
When I discussed parking with my students each term (which I did to enact out a paper together -- they knew enough to form a thesis, get up content), some of my students would call this spite. It certainly felt that way to them. I call it more than overtly callous indifference. It's a way of choking off space to force the students and faculty to pay for parking in the garages. I repeat there is probably more than enough space to accommodate everyone -- even though at GMU they now have a private hotel on one ex-parking lot, and on another a private company building. Spaces are sold for real estate rents. Who cares that they take away space from those supposed to be there for education.
They are getting an education, oh boy are they.
One of the tiny lots near the entrance I used to come in at is amusing. There you can park for 15 minutes at a time if you can figure out the machines. I have had experiences with the campus police and seen others have who didn't manage to pay right. You discover the aggressive bullying that now characterizes police in US cities is what is practised at GMU.
This summer I came across another factor in the world of public space at GMU. This is about the diminution of public space in US life everywhere, the increasing use of exclusionary practices in all areas previously open ot the public -- they are up for rent, another reality of US life. At GMU when new bulidings are built, ruthlessly fences are put up all over the place near by (to suit convenience of the company doing it), so you are forced to walk long miles to get somewhere. No effort is made to try to accommodate lanes. And a student is put in charge of watching. Some have this triumphant kind of look that reminds me of Bernard Hepton playing Mr Krook in the Arthur Hopcraft 1985 Dickens's Bleak House. They are being taught to exclude others and feel good about it; though they are paid a pittance for this task of excluding people, they like enacting authority.
I have bad feet and go still to use the library. One day this summer I could literally not find one legal space which included my kind of inferior permit so I illegally parked. I thought to myself, 5 minutes. I can make it in 5 minutes there and 5 back. I didn't count on, forgot, these blocked-off lanes. With the thought of a high priced ticket, I indeed ignored students (I just walked right past, WTF) and walked illegally to the library in a direct route. I found that at each turn there was indeed some hole or space for me to get through. I made it back in 15 and didn't get a ticket and left tout de suite.
But I can't do that regularly. I've not the stamina or nerves. GMU is not alone in such policies of high price for spaces -- I have been told by those who have this way of consoling themselves for an immediate oppression by pointing to something worse that the Univeristy of Virginia is charging fantastic sums to park: someone cited $1800 for a guaranteed space. I can scarcely credit that, but I've an idea it is much higher than a "mere" $600. Should I cite what even as a long time adjunct with publications and a Ph.D I get per section?
I was relieved on Tuesday not to go out to face that world. It's now not just student-unfriendly at GMU (the general atmosphere always was -- a state-supported school you see does not value its customers as much as a private one, especially when they come there as commuters and part-time which a lot of GMU students do): it's student-exploitative. My little joke is if they could figure out a way to charge to sit on one of their benches they'd do it. Only you see they rent the centreal park like areas of the campuses out to corporations and circuses now and again and perhaps what they'd have to set up to do it would get in the way.
Oh yes I know of a tiny unpaved parking lot, pebbles, part of it given over to the military (yes) and to sports athletes, but since so few know about it, it is lousy to park in and in an inconvenient place, I could usually find a space there. I won't tell unless you contact me to know behind which building and by which the few standing woods it's near.