Berkeley's Prize For Nobel Winners: Free Parking The University of California, 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's Prize For Nobel Winners: Free Parking

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Earlier this week, Professor Oliver Williamson, University of California at Berkeley, won the Nobel Prize in economics. Since then he's been showered with congratulations from his colleagues and students. And the university will award him an additional, maybe more unique prize.

Cyrus Farivar reports from Berkeley.

CYRUS FARIVAR: Winning a Nobel Prize is rare enough. But in this historic university campus there might be something even more rare: a free parking space on the central campus. These are highly coveted spaces and normally cost about $1,500 per year. So as an added perk, UC Berkeley gives its Nobel laureates a free lifetime parking permit in a special centrally located Nobel laureate-only parking area.

Professor Oliver Williamson is now the eighth Nobel laureate on the current faculty.

Professor OLIVER WILLIAMSON (University of California, Berkeley): Oh, I plan to receive a copy of that parking permit and put it to good use.

FARIVAR: There are five parking spaces in a row between the physics and economics buildings, and another two behind the chemistry building, reflecting the various departments currently represented. They're marked with a special sign that reads: Reserved for NL/Special Permit Required At All Times. That NL, of course, stands for Nobel laureate.

Physics Professor George Smoot, who won the Prize in 2006, says that although the permit is free, it's not automatically renewed. That's why not all eight of Berkeley's Nobel laureates have spots.

Professor GEORGE SMOOT (University of California, Berkeley): It's a temporary permit. You've got to renew it every year - like your Nobel laureate's going to go away or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. SMOOT: And so twice now I've gotten tickets because I didn't, you know, remember to renew it on time.

FARIVAR: But a little paperwork is not going to stop Professor Williamson.

Prof. WILLIAMSON: I think it ought to be automated. But apply if I must, apply I will.

FARIVAR: When I spoke with Professor Williamson earlier this week, he said he's not exactly sure when he'll get the permit. That being said, he'd kind of like to get it quickly.

Prof. WILLIAMSON: There's a banquet tonight that the chancellor is putting on, and I'm hoping that he has in his pocket this parking pass. But we'll see.

FARIVAR: So you're kind of gunning for it as soon as possible.

Prof. WILLIAMSON: I'm hoping for it. I won't be disappointed if I have to struggle for the next six weeks without it.

FARIVAR: Professor Williamson did not actually receive the permit at the chancellor's dinner. But Professor Williamson did tell me that after speaking with the chancellor about our interview, the chancellor produced a handwritten temporary parking permit on the spot.

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

For NPR News, I'm Cyrus Farivar, Berkeley, California.

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