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Thomas Clark

Privileging hybrids a visible reminder of class inequality

Hourly wage workers at universities are daily reminded of the many ways their employers indicate their relative inferiority to its teachers and administrators who boast advanced degrees and certifications. One recent trend, the adoption of LEED parking standards, serves as testimony to how the knowledge class perpetuates privileges for those at the top of the university system.LEED- -- which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design -- is an internationally recognized green building certification system, equivalent to a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for buildings that meet specific standards for being environmentally friendly. For example, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago proudly reports that it reserves 25 parking stalls at the entranceway of its parking garage for hybrid cars.At issue is what these standards say about status relationships within the Academy. To frame this issue from a "critical perspective" so favored by many in the professoriate, we need to answer this question: Who is privileged and who disadvantaged by LEED parking standards?Data indicate LEED parking standards favor university professionals who already have power, wealth, and status: mature, well-to-do, highly degreed members of the leisure class. Those most likely to earn reserved parking are:Affluent. The Volt, a GM car for which purchasers, whose annual income averages US$175,000, receive a $7,500 taxpayer subsidy, "appeals to an affluent, progressive demographic," says Bill Visnic, senior editor for Edmunds.com. "It's rare. It's hard to get one. ... It's the same reason that people buy the really rare exotic cars: Because other people can't have one."Similarly, 71 percent of Prius owners were found to earn more than $100,000 per year. A Topline Strategy Group study found a significant number of hybrid buyers trade down from foreign-made luxury vehicles, such as the Audi A6, BMW X3 or Acura TL, a means of exchanging a status symbol of… Read More