Friday, November 2, 2007

Parking - the third rail of campus life

The third rail provides power for electric trains. If you touch a third rail, it isn't a pleasant thing. We recently had an interesting case study in organizational communication that surfaced the third rail of campus life - parking. My blog seemed fitting to capture it for the ages and attempt to clarify a few things. After participating in this effort to a point, hearing of the situation as things unfolded, and sorting the alluser emails and individual emails (thank you to those of you who chose to communicate with me through my blog email - I appreciated your insights!), here is what I have gleaned from this memorable week.

The Payne Hall lot gate is old. No tracking mechanism exists and we have difficulty if a new card needs to be made with the old system. As part of a planned project, we secured funding to purchase a new gate. The project was discussed at an Executive Committee meeting where it was recognized the manner in which this was communicated and "rolled out" would be important not to cause any confusion. As part of the (mis)communication effort, it was reported at the Safety Committee. It was mentioned that there was a list of names who could park in the lot and reference was made to contractual issues with parking. The question was then asked "does this mean that classified support staff won't get new cards and will have to find a new place to park?" Unfortunately, no clear answer was provided and people were left to their imaginations which were then further fueled by the article in Communitas. The article said that professional staff would be able to park in the lot after the new gate was installed. The meaning of the word professional in the article seemed to imply members of the professional association, which was untrue. The term professional staff was an inclusive phrase intended to reinforce the fact that MVCC is a community of professionals - all of us.

I believe the ambiguous wording in the article coupled with the ambiguity from the safety committee meeting led people to paint current events with a historical brush - interpreting today with a yesterday lens. I tried to communicate in a selective fashion through particular email aliases, which was quickly escalated to an allusers chatroom format. This then further escalated the commentary to surface parking issues associated with other areas on campus. All I can say there is that in the short term we will have a new gate for the Payne Hall lot; Long-term, we hope to update the Campus Master Plan, at which time all of our parking needs will be assessed to identify strategic solutions to parking issues.

The intent was to install a new gate. The intent was not to imply that one employee group was more important than another. I remain committed to developing systems and structures and managing symbols to the best of my abilities that reinforce the critical importance of all employee groups, of all job classifications, of all individual employees in supporting our students clarify and achieve their goals and serve our community in creative ways to help our region thrive. When we're able to look back on this week, that of tricks and treats, I hope the only change we will have on this is a new gate and common memory affirming two things that we do know in this world of so many unknowns: 1. communication, both sending and receiving messages is critically important to our success as an organization and 2. parking is the third rail of campus life.

If you have any further reflections on parking, please share them with me at presblog@mvcc.edu.