Students and faculty were graced with an elusive “snow day” last Tuesday – the first in over a year and half – and many didn’t even have to shovel.
But the decision to close the university came too late for some students and faculty.
“They definitely should have cancelled sooner or just not have cancelled at all,” said junior Caitlyn Hale, who has a 50-minute commute from her home in Manchester. An email notifying students came too late for Hale.
“Finding out at 7:19 or even 7 is too late for me. I leave my house at 6:45 every day for my 8 a.m. classes to account for weather and or traffic,” she said, “I'm not going to be checking my email after 7 while I'm driving because that in itself is dangerous. I wasted two hours of my morning and had me risking driving in the crappy conditions.”
Students were not the only ones who arrived on campus after receiving the news.
“Whether or not the decision is correct or not, it should come earlier,” said English Professor Andy Alexander, who arrived on campus before the closing was sent out. Alexander noted that closures in the past “took an act of heaven to close the school.”
Leavenworth Hall Staff Assistant Pam Alexander proceeded with her morning as usual.
“It still didn’t even hit me when I rolled onto campus, because I thought ‘oh gosh, lots of faculty have cancelled classes,’” she said. “When I got to the door and it was locked, that was when I knew something wasn’t right.”
Those in charge of the decision to close include Public Safety, dean of students, dean of administration, director of Facilities, and the university president.
“We typically choose not to close; we are a 24-hour-a-day operation here,” said Dean of Students Dennis Proulx, “We have residents on Campus — around 1,100. We have about 500 students living reasonably close and another 500 commuting from all over Rutland County, New York and elsewhere.”
Most of the faculty and staff live reasonably close to campus, although a handful travel lengthy distances, including one who drives from Albany.
“It’s not as easy as with K-12; K-12 has a 7 to 3 day and you have minors involved,” Proulx said. “We also have an obligation to our local partners to keep our students off the road when they’re trying to clear. Part of why schools close is to help keep traffic off the streets while the municipality plows, sands, and takes care of business so that everyone can be safe.”
Proulx also mentioned that students are paying for classes, and a snow day can be the equivalent of losing $200.
“We’re mindful — because we’re 24-hour-a-day operation — that if the commute is bad until 9 and the rest of the day is clear, we still have a lot of business that needs to be done. We may also have a hockey game, or a basketball program, or a cab event, or a lecture, or a Soundings event or community members coming in at 5 p.m.,” he said.
Tuesday morning was particularly difficult, as the national forecast for the area included ice in the morning, but above-freezing temperatures the remainder of the day – which turned out to be true.
“But then there was this idea in the weather report that by the afternoon it was going to be icy again,” said Proulx. “Based on how our contracts are written, if we close, we’re either open or we’re closed, we don’t have a midpoint. There’s no option to close for just morning.
“At 6:30 a.m., the president finally said ‘you know, my gut says let’s just close to be safe, and be done with it,’ and by 6:45 the media had been alerted, and by approximately 7:10 emails were sent out,” he said.
“Everyone loves a snow day; we all jump back to our elementary school days of having a day off to frolic in the snow,” said Proulx with a grin.
Essential university personnel from Sodexo, Public Safety, and Facilities weren’t as lucky though and had to work.
Send Word Now – the emergency system that alerts all students and faculty during a crisis – was mentioned by students and faculty as an alternative method of alerting students of cancellation.
But Proulx said that is ONLY to be used in a crisis situation.
“If you use it too much, people start ignoring it as a true crisis. If there’s an active shooter on campus and we hit the Send Word Now, students, faculty, and staff see the message and siren and realize something big must be going on,” explained Proulx.
“There were a few individuals who have told us that because we waited until 6:45 their lives were negatively impacted, and I want to honor their opinion,” he said, “I think most were just happy to have a full day off.”