Pressing for the facts at College Park Student newspaper: Confidentiality can't be stretched to cover fines for parking violations.

October 03, 1997

PLENTY OF things deserve the protection of confidentiality. Parking fines are not among them.

When parking spaces are as rare as they are at University of Maryland College Park, the competition for finding one can be as fierce as an NCAA basketball play-off.

So imagine how students, faculty and administrators must have felt to learn a couple of years ago that a basketball player had found his own way of shutting out the competition by parking pretty much as he pleased -- accumulating more than $8,000 in fines in the process. The matter became public when the player was suspended for three games in early 1996 for accepting an illegal loan of $2,000 to make a down payment on the debt.

To their credit, enterprising journalists at the Diamondback, the university's student newspaper, set out to discover how many other basketball players had amassed large fines. Their quest has taken the matter all the way to the Maryland Court of Appeals, where the state's highest judges will determine whether the university is correct to protect such records, as it would any financial relationship between a student and the administration -- or whether parking fines can be considered a different matter from tuition payments or scholarship arrangements.

We think parking fines are quite different. They occur only when a driver misuses a parking privilege. They fall more into the area of law enforcement than education. In the case of basketball players, suspicions naturally arise that these students are abusing the status accorded them as campus heroes.

Has the administration given special treatment to some students? If people suspect so, whatever good any leniency could do for the school's basketball prospects is far outweighed by the damage that even the appearance of favoritism causes to the community spirit that ought to transcend sports.

Public knowledge of parking fines may cause embarrassment, but that information does not touch on private matters between students and schools that ought to be held strictly confidential. We hope the Court of Appeals will clarify that important point -- and we congratulate the Diamondback's editors for pressing ahead in their quest for the facts.

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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