Since President Scott L. Wyatt decided to auction off his parking spot in 2018, over $12,000 has been donated to benefit students and the community of Southern Utah University — continuing a legacy of philanthropy that he has established over his years as president.
According to President Wyatt, the parking space closest to Old Main has been reserved for the university president for “forever,” or at least since the Hunter Conference Center was dedicated in the 1920’s.
President Wyatt has been known to use his passion for exercise as a way to benefit the community. In 2018, he joined a team of SUU professors that ran 170 miles across the desert to raise money for the Center for Hope, a childcare facility that was converted from the president’s home in 2020.
In addition to waking up at 5 a.m. each morning to run, President Wyatt walks to campus each day, rain or shine. Because of this, his parking space near the Hunter Conference Center was sitting empty.
“This is going to sound like I’m being super generous, but I’m not,” President Wyatt said. “It’s more practical because I don’t drive to school. It’s just sitting here empty, and so I said, ‘Let’s figure out something to do with it. Hey, let’s do something fun with it.’”
For three years now, President Wyatt has auctioned off his parking space to faculty and staff at SUU. The stipulation: the bidder has to donate the money to a SUU scholarship or organization of their choice.
It all started when Provost Faculty Fellow of Political Science Doug Bennett and President Wyatt went to Bryce Canyon National Park for a Deming Institute presentation — an organization that teaches Dr. Edward Deming’s approach to leadership and management.
“The speaker told of a corporate executive who auctioned off his parking space,” Bennett said. “On the way home, President Wyatt said, ‘That’s a good idea. I think I’ll auction off my parking space.’”
According to Bennett, President Wyatt accidentally bumped a plastic part on the interior of Bennett’s car with his knee and cracked it on their way home from Bryce Canyon.
“It turns out that the plastic parts of his car are fragile and rather expensive,” President Wyatt said, smiling.
President Wyatt offered to pay to fix the part immediately and wrote a check for the damages to Bennett.
“I thought, ‘I can’t take his money to pay for my car, and he didn’t mean to do it anyway,’” Bennett said. “The parking spot auction opened the same day he gave me the check for the car. So I took the check back to my office and started bidding on the parking space.”
Although it started out as a round-a-bout way to give President Wyatt back his money for the damaged car part, Bennett admitted that once he started bidding, the parking space didn’t sound like such a bad idea to have.
“I live in Ivins, Utah, so I’m 65 miles away. Often when I get to campus late, there’s no parking,” Bennett said. “Once the bidding started I thought to myself, ‘I want this parking space,’ So I kept bidding.”
Bennett won the bid for the parking space for the 2018-19 academic school year —paying $2,250 for the best spot on campus, and the opportunity to help pay tuition for a student.
“That first year was quite a battle, but Doug Bennett got it,” President Wyatt recalled.
Bennett not only got the parking space the first year, but increased his bid almost four times the second year to secure the space again.
“When I retired from being [political science] department chair, my colleagues established a scholarship in my name. I thought, ‘It’s been great having this parking space, and now there’s this scholarship, so we’ll put some money into it,” Bennett said.
Bennett paid $8,000 to receive the parking space during the 2019-20 academic school year.
Bennett decided not to bid on the parking space for 2020-21 because he is teaching remotely from Ivins, but he laughs about how the bidding came full circle with President Wyatt.
“The irony of it all is that it was his money I used to get into it,” Bennett said, “and I was with him when they floated the idea, so it had a certain symmetry to it.”
Shawn Christiansen, the dean of the Department of Teacher Education and Family Development, currently has his name on the parking space for the year after bidding $2,001 in the auction. He chose to donate the money to the Center for Hope, the same childcare facility that President Wyatt gave up his home for.
“The Center for Hope had just been recently dedicated for the purpose of SUU students who were parents to complete their education by having child care so they could attend class and work,” Christiansen said. “Since I had been involved in the creation of the Center for Hope and believed in its mission, it was important to me to support it and SUU student parents.”
In the space of three years, President Wyatt has offered his home, office space and parking spot to SUU and the community. By giving up his home, the school saved the $4 million that would’ve been required to build the facility and the $12,000 donated from the parking space auction is almost enough to pay four semesters of in-state tuition and fees for a student.
To keep up with the bidding in the future, visit suu.edu.