Berkeley's Prize For Nobel Winners: Free Parking

Parking space reserved for Nobel laureates on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. i i

hide captionA parking space reserved for Nobel laureates on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

Cyrus Farivar for NPR
Parking space reserved for Nobel laureates on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

A parking space reserved for Nobel laureates on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

Cyrus Farivar for NPR

Winning a Nobel Prize is difficult enough. But on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, there is something that might be even more difficult to get: a parking space on the central campus.

That's why Berkeley has made it a practice to offer its Nobel laureates an extra-special perk: a free lifetime permit to park in the highly coveted spaces near the central campus. The spots would normally cost about $1,500 a year.

Berkeley professor Oliver Williamson won the Nobel Prize in economics earlier this week. He's been showered with the congratulations from colleagues and students. But, perhaps even better, he's getting that Berkeley parking perk.

Nobel Prize winner Oliver Williamson i i

hide captionNobel Prize winner Oliver Williamson smiles at his home in Berkeley, Calif., on Monday, as he holds a book he wrote on economics.

Paul Sakuma/AP
Nobel Prize winner Oliver Williamson

Nobel Prize winner Oliver Williamson smiles at his home in Berkeley, Calif., on Monday, as he holds a book he wrote on economics.

Paul Sakuma/AP

"Oh, I plan to receive a copy of that parking permit and put it to good use," said Williamson, who's the eighth Nobel laureate on Berkeley's current faculty.

The special parking places reserved for Nobel laureates include five parking spaces in a row between the physics and economics buildings, and another two behind the chemistry building, reflecting the various departments currently enjoying the awards. The spaces are marked with special signs that read: "Reserved For NL/Special Permit Required At All Times." That "NL," of course, stands for Nobel laureate.

Physics professor George Smoot, who won the Nobel Prize in 2006, said there's a catch to the permit: It's free, but it's not automatically renewed each year. Some of Berkeley's Nobel laureates have let their permits lapse.

"It's a temporary permit," Smoot explained. "You've got to renew it every year — like your Nobel laureate's going to go away, or something! And so, twice now I've gotten tickets because I didn't, you know, remember to renew it on time."

But Williamson says a little paperwork will not discourage him from getting the permit.

"I think it ought to be automated, but apply if I must, apply I will," he said.

Earlier this week, Williamson said he was hoping to get his parking permit quickly. The university's chancellor was holding a banquet in his honor, Williamson said, "and I'm hoping that he has in his pocket the parking pass, but we'll see."

Still, he said, "I won't be disappointed if I have to struggle for the next six weeks without it."

As it turned out, Williamson did not receive the permit at the chancellor's dinner, but upon hearing of his interview with NPR, the chancellor produced a handwritten temporary parking permit for Williamson on the spot.

In the meantime, campus parking and transportation officials are working to set up Williamson's space near his office. He'll collect his Nobel Prize in Stockholm on Dec. 10.

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