Speaking Out

More on Towing

The plangent letter of Professor Edward Herman (Almanac, 7 September), in which he ruminates on how the University deals with people who park their cars illegally on campus, deserves comment.

There is, in fact, a panel called the Parking Violations Board which adjudicates complaints from those who believe that Penn's vendor, R & K Towing, wrongfully towed away their car. That there is an appeals process does not suggest "a defective system in operation;" this circumstance permits the same access to redress that one has anywhere in the United States if one receives a traffic summons. You may be entirely in the wrong, but you are still entitled to a fair hearing.

Professor Herman fails to mention that his permit for Lot 14, the garage at 38th and Spruce Streets, puts him within walking distance of Steinberg-Dietrich. He also neglects to say that the paved area behind Steinberg-Dietrich is not a University parking lot at all, it is a loading zone for which the University Police are responsible. It is also one of the few places from which the Philadelphia Fire Department has access to a number of campus buildings, not at all the best place to park unannounced.

Of course, if someone needs to move heavy cartons to or from a campus building, one could use a handtruck to carry the goods from a legal parking place to their destination. This invention has been around for quite some time; Professor Herman could try using one next time. Better yet: leave someone in the car, like a baby or a small child (R & K is reluctant to tow cars that have children in them). Better still: ask the University Police for a temporary parkng permit (they are quite avuncular about giving them, especially on Saturdays), and request it before you park your car.

--Paul J. Korshin, Professor of English

Response to Dr. Korshin

Professor Korshin devotes the bulk of his letter to a sarcastic advisory on what I might have done-like using a hand truck to carry boxes of books several blocks and up a number of flights in an indoor parking lot, or bringing a baby whose presence would preclude towing-if I had been aware of the seriousness of the towing threat. But if I had been aware I wouldn't have needed any advice-and one main point of my letter was that towing without warning is a harsh penalty for unawareness, carelessness, and ignorance. He also fails to address the other main point of my letter-that the incentive structure for R & K towing adds to the unreasonableness of the system. (In the wake of publication of my letter another faculty member informs me that he was towed within a five minute span on a Sunday.)

Professor Korshin's point that the Fire Department has access to a number of buildings from the loading area in which I parked is equally foolish, as cars can park there with temporary permits which I normally use to load thereby obstructing the Fire Department, and my corner parking in an otherwise empty zone did not obstruct anybody. Korshin's querulous outburst evades all the issues and makes no valid point whatsoever.

--Edward S. Herman, Professor Emeritus of Finance


Chief of Police Maureen S. Rush's earlier reply to my letter assumed incorrectly that I was towed from space allocated to those paying for parking, and like Korshin she also fails to discuss any of the substantive issues that I raised. Who makes policy on these matters in the University community? Where are these issues discussed and resolved?

Return to Penn Book Center

I remember that two years ago there was a bit of a controversy regarding the new Barnes and Noble bookstore, and the possibility that it might squash local bookstores such as the Penn Book Center. Specifically, this issue surrounded its possibly requiring professors to submit their textbook lists to the superstore, negating any necessity on the part of the students to shop at another seller.

At the time I sympathized with the local sellers, as stores such as Barnes and Noble have indeed been, on a national level, putting such local stores out of business. I have friends who have been willing to pay a $10 premium to the Penn Book Center over what bn.com would have charged for an identical book, in order to 'help out' the little guy.

In the light of my recent experience with the Penn Book Center, however, this opinion has changed. I made the decision to drop one of my classes after the Book Center's arbitrary seven-day return period, unknowingly placing me into their second return window-one which required a printout of my schedule to prove that I had dropped the class. After finding this out from the PBC, I was a bit annoyed, but went home to print out a copy of my schedule online from PennInTouch. After presenting this to the cashier, however, I was told that this wasn't adequate-I had to trek to the Registrar's office to obtain a stamped, official copy of my schedule in order to prove that I was no longer in the class. Even more annoyed, I obtained this and brought it back to the PBC. I was then told that, because of a small bend in the corner of the book's front cover, they would not accept the return at all. This is absolutely ridiculous, as the nature of the bend is one which would be repaired by simply placing it on a shelf between two other books and, furthermore, was caused by my having to keep the book longer and drag it around in my backpack through four seperate trips to the Penn Book Center.

In the future, I will make my purchases from bn.com or amazon.com if the books I need aren't available at the regular Penn Bookstore. It's pretty pathetic for a local store when the return policies of mail order companies are more convenient than their own. I would also suggest that Penn professors consider this situation when deciding to make their requested books available exclusively from the Penn Book Center. If local stores such as the PBC can't even make an attempt at decent service, there really isn't any reason that they should be protected from the corporate juggernaut bookstores. If "personal service" like this would be among the casualties of corporate-dominated book sales, good riddance.

--Sara Kutney, College '00

Response to Ms. Kutney

In reflecting on this case, I can see that Sara Kutney is justified in thinking the book she wished to return should have been accepted for refund. I remember the book in question quite well and agree that my interpretation of the damage was an error on the side of strictness. I ask Sara Kutney to accept my apology and to return the book for a full refund.

The returns policy of the Penn Book Center does require that books be in new condition for full refund. This requirement, along with a full explanation of the procedure for returning books is well posted in the store. It appears this requirement and the procedure is well understood. We have processed hundreds of returns during the past two weeks with virtually no problems. When books are presented to us for return, we have to make a judgment on whether they can be reshelved as new. Obviously, there is a margin within which some interpretation must be allowed for. Our returns policy is not "arbitrary". It is based on generally-accepted industry standards, many years of experience and a sense of mutual fairness. Above all else we wish to deal fairly with all customers. When mistakes are made we welcome the opportunity to correct them. Sara Kutney's complaint has been helpful to us in this regard, and I trust the Penn Book Center will have the opportunity to serve her again.

--Keith Helmuth, Manager, Penn Book Center

Anonymous Contributions

Although Almanac cannot accept anonymous letters, the Board will review requests to withhold signatures. For guidelines on this and other aspects of publication here, see: www.upenn.edu/almanac/about/guidlin.html.--Eds.

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. 5, September 28, 1999