The Limits of Messaging

UW-Whitewater quadruples parking without a permit fine

Whitewater, like many small towns, is marketing mad: claims, professions, insistence, publicizing, and declarations exceed actual conditions. Newly-increased fines over Whitewater’s available parking spaces on campus illustrate this problem.

The local campus is large, relative to the non-campus parts of the city, and that places pressure on both campus and non-campus residents for parking spaces. To address this problem, the campus police department has quadrupled fines for parking without a permit in the wrong spot on campus (“No one likes getting a parking ticket, and now it may feel even worse for those at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater”).

Campus police chief Kiederlen wants compliance and others’ attention, and he’s settled on an old-school way to get it.

He assures the community that these fines will apply to those on campus, and that for others (non-students in town) there’s a possibility of a waiver. (Ironically, one supposes that this is Kiederlen’s version of a catch and release program for non-campus residents.)

The program is unwittingly counter-productive. The university wants to assure the whole community that it’s a good partner, that it’s a ‘college of distinction,’ that everyone should enjoy music on campus, and that there’s a sesquicentennial anniversary to celebrate, but you’ll have to talk to campus police if you want to get out of a hundred-dollar ticket.

(Obvious point: I’ve not received a ticket on campus; these remarks are not delivered after having received one.)

A few such tickets to residents, however – even if later waived – will cause a frustration that can only exacerbate a town-gown divide that this university has faced under this and former chancellors.  (Saunders, Telfer, Kopper: not one of them made this relationship meaningfully better.)

In the end, this university cannot help but undermine its own messaging time and again. (Indeed, the media relations team mostly deals in dull and boilerplate statements, and is better at demanding exorbitant fees for public records requests from students than advancing an effective, persuasive message. Note to all concerned: one should expect a different response to such a demand, if ever a request were made.)

Structural problems (like parking) have been poorly addressed and not as structural solutions (e.g., building garages), and enforcement solutions (fine them until they comply!) are a poor and counter-productive substitute.

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