Speaking Out

The following letter was sent to Dr. Paul Korshin, a member of the Parking Violations Board, and to Almanac, for publication.

Is the Board Listening?

I read your comment in response to Professor Herman's letter (Almanac, 7 September) and would like to add that the same questions he raised crossed my mind too when I was towed. You mentioned the existence of the Parking Violations Board; however, had he submitted an appeal, he might have become even more frustrated. I know I was: after turning in the recovery form, I never heard back from the board.

--James Gee, Research Assistant, Professor of Neurology

Response from Dr. Korshin

Professor James Gee writes of his frustration in dealing with the Parking Violations Board, so perhaps it may be helpful for me to say something about this panel.

The Parking Violations Board exists to hear appeals from people whose vehicles either the Office of Transportation and Parking or the University Police have had towed from (presumably) illegal parking places around campus. The Senate Executive Committee appoints the Board and, until 1997, the Office of Student Life provided its administrative staff. At the end of 1996-97, Student Life asked to be relieved of this responsibility; Business Services now provides the administrative staff for the Board. The search for proper administrative staff was protracted, so there were no meetings in 1997-98. In 1998-99, the Board reconvened, but not until June 1999, at the end of a second academic year during which appeals had continued to accumulate.

The Board dealt with several hundred appeals, some dating from as long ago as fall 1997, at several meetings in June 1999; it is possible that Professor Gee's appeal has been mislaid during the period of administrative change.

Since the late 1970s, the Parking Violations Board has met only twice a year, once near the end of each semester. However, as available parking space on campus has become scarcer and more costly, violations have increased, towing is more aggressive, and hence there are more appeals. It is therefore reasonable to expect that this panel will need more frequent meetings to consider these appeals more swiftly.

--Paul J. Korshin, Professor of English

Ed. Note: Dr. Korshin served on the Parking Violations Board from 1981-87, and was appointed to his present term in 1998.

Alumni Access at Library?

"Hi. Do you have your Penn I.D.?" The guards at the palace, otherwise referred to as the impressive Van Pelt Library "estate" were just doing their jobs, asking pleasantly and then demanding to see some form of identification. I patiently explained that I am a Penn alum School of Nursing, Class of '87. I am now a graduate student at Rosemont College, (perish the thought), working on a project for my magazine writing class.

I continued, "I need to use your computer system to obtain a list of periodical sources." My husband, a student at Delaware County Community College and future physician assistant student at Hahnemann University, accompanied me, as he is far more computer literate than me. They were satisfied when we flashed our student I.D.s.

Thinking that our mission was almost accomplished because we had overcome that obstacle, we were at the mercy of the staff workers. Tim and I were overwhelmed by the abundant staff and the interior of this palatial structure. Huge glass windows, tan stained wooden stairs leading to numerous rooms containing texts, periodicals and a complete musical collection of records and discs. Van Pelt certainly underwent many facelifts since I was a student there 12 years ago. This was truly an information seeker's haven!

Now, I would never ordinarily criticize librarians or library workers. My mother is a librarian and worked hard to get where she is, but some of the people who assisted us did so begrudgingly, so we thought. We were directed to the resource librarian who provided us with a one minute set of instructions on computer usage. Of course she prefaced her spiel with the much anticipated question, "are you Penn students?" Did she know that neither one of us currently "belonged" there? The pregnant silence was followed by a hesitant "yes" from my husband. Well, that wasn't exactly a lie. I was a student at Penn from 1983-1987. Did that mean that I was only allowed to use Penn's resources during those four years and when I graduated, time was up like an expired meter?

It was at this point that I realized there was more to this than meets the eye. My husband and I walked away, my heart beating wildly. Why did we say "yes?" Was that unethical on our part? Darn, we needed a Penn student I.D. number and we didn't have one, or rather I didn't have one. But was it really necessary? I am a graduate of the nursing school! I realized at this point that a Penn alum doesn't draw the respect from the University as I had expected. Although I cannot attach a value to the education I received at Penn for I am able to support a household, I am extremely disappointed that in this particular instance, my alum status seemed practically worthless. Interestingly enough, I seem to be remembered fondly during those fund drives which are run quite often. (You know, those annoying dinnertime calls coupled with all of the other unwelcome phone solicitations).

Excuse me, but why are we, the alum restricted from using our former libraries? Will our use of these structures truly drain its vast resources? Last time I checked, the University of Pennsylvania was thriving financially, receiving millions of dollars from grants and gifts. Do not expect me to contribute at all if I am forbidden to feed on this sweet educational fruit.

--Nancy B. Cohen, BSN '87

Response to Nancy Cohen

We are sorry for Nancy Cohen's disappointing experience at the Van Pelt Library. Penn graduates are important to us, and we welcome their use of Library facilities and collections. When entering the Library, we do ask alumni to present identification, such as a Penn Alumni Card, because it serves the security interest of all patrons.

While our aim is to help alumni who need information, there are certain limitations on the resources we can provide them, as Ms. Cohen found. Many of the electronic resources on the Library Web site are commercially developed products whose use is restricted, by licensing agreement, to current students, faculty and staff.

In exchange for restricted access, database providers package their products at affordable prices, benefitting students at what is arguably their most critical period of need. The offer of competitive pricing has a clear intent: students who enter the large after-college market will pay well for the easy and ubiquitous database access they become accustomed to while in school. The prospect of cultivating and reaching this lucrative market gives commercial firms the incentive to discount the digital resources we license. It's a discount we pass on to the schools in the form of reduced library costs--reduced costs that ultimately help to contain tuition increases, and move down the food chain to students who one day will be alumni.

Does this mean that Penn students leave the University for an information ghetto? No. After graduation, alumni retain access to millions of books, over 34,000 journals, the professional assistance of our librarians, and some very valuable digital resources that would be difficult to find or use if the Library hadn't been constructing effective and free access mechanisms on its Web site. The online catalog, our Resources by Subject pages and the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image are good examples of these mechanisms. We also provide borrowing privileges to alumni who request them. A fee is required, but it's half the fee charged non-graduates and less than half the annual cost of a cable TV subscription.

--Patricia Renfro, Associate Director of Libraries

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues can be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines.

Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.--Eds.

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 8, October 19, 1999