Sep. 15, 2014

Snow days give students a day off, but create stress for administrators

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February 24, 2014

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Sometimes I get the impression that people from Virginia don’t know what snow is, or at least not how to deal with it. Vice President of Administration Anna Martin, along with those who receive the supposed “blame” for not cancelling class during inclement weather, are not among those people. So far in this academic year, the decision to cancel class or to keep campus open has been perfectly adequate for the circumstances of the weather. Those who think otherwise should go spend their winter months in Canada and see what kind of weather is a legitimate reason to cancel class.

The incessant complaints received by the administration about the campus remaining open at the sight of a single snowflake strike me as unnecessary and out of line. Our administration, including the Emergency Management Team, is more than capable of determining when the weather may make going to class dangerous.

Students need to understand that as an academic institution with a mission to educate, it’s not an easy decision to cancel or to hold classes when the weather is being fussy. Students and faculty alike come from different areas where weather inevitably varies from polar vortex to near-tropical, making the ease of getting to campus variable as well. Moreover, weather is unpredictable until it actually happens, and human error is a very real aspect in decisions regarding weather. These factors make it nearly impossible to make a decision that affects everyone equally.

That being said, the email from Provost Michael Halleran is only a reiteration of how students and faculty should already treat inclement weather. As an adult, it is your personal responsibility to decide what is safe for you, and personal safety should absolutely drive your decisions of whether to go to class in bad weather.

I do not, however, think that students should be given a “get out of class free” pass just because of the weather. Provost Halleran’s message claiming that students should not be penalized for missing class due to weather conditions has an obvious flaw: Professors have no way of knowing just how much the weather affects students’ ability to get to class, thus making it easy for students to skip with weather as an excuse.

If campus remains open, then students and faculty should continue to operate under the expectation of showing up to class. If weather poses an actual safety concern for a student, that student shouldn’t expect a professor to assume that the weather was a valid excuse. The student is responsible for communicating their safety concerns with their professors and subsequently catching up on any missed work. Professors should continue to expect students in class if they choose to hold class, and should be allowed to mark absent those students who don’t communicate a safety concern.

Email Kaitlan Shaub at kcshaub@email.wm.edu.

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Kaitlan Shaub

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