To the Editors,
Regarding The College Reporter’s Jan. 27 editorial, “Slippery Slope,” I first would like to thank the editors for inviting discussion about our safety and security procedures for winter storms and other circumstances that necessitate Franklin & Marshall to close, delay opening or cancel classes for safety concerns. Secondly, I appreciate the opportunity to explain the policies and processes that are involved in such an event to ensure the health, welfare and safety of the entire campus community.
As you are aware, on Jan. 21, the College closed because a winter storm was forecast for times when faculty and staff would be traveling to and from campus. In making this decision, College officials including myself, Director of Public Safety Bill McHale, Associate Vice President for Facilities & Operations Mike Wetzel, and the president’s senior staff considered a number of factors.
First and foremost, the safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors always is our highest priority. Although each situation is different, among the other factors we also consider before a decision to close the College, delay opening or dismiss faculty and staff early are the predicted intensity and duration of the storm, road conditions, scheduled classes and exams and campus events.
Because F&M is a residential campus, and our students live here, canceling classes and activities, even when the College is closed, is a rare occurrence, with decisions always made with the campus community’s safety and security in mind.
For Jan. 21, forecasters predicted that a winter storm would arrive in the area of F&M at approximately 7 a.m. and continue throughout the day, with snow accumulating at a rapid rate of one inch per hour. Because of the unusual amount of snow expected, the College’s emergency management team considered closing the entire campus and canceling classes. But because class assignments and schedules vary a great deal, and because most students live on campus and are not required to travel to campus, it was decided ultimately that individual faculty members should proceed with or cancel classes at their own discretion. Many faculty members decided to continue with their class as scheduled, as is the historic norm at F&M and typical of other residential colleges.
In evaluating the events of Jan. 21 and reviewing our procedures, as we do after all campus closures and delays, the College’s emergency management team has initiated a process to enhance our decision-making procedures to ensure that we are incorporating the perspectives of the entire campus community.
One factor that we must keep in mind through this process is the reality that if the campus is closed but classes continue during a storm in which snow rapidly accumulates, it simply is not possible to keep miles of pathways, driveways and roads as well as parking lots and building entrances clear of snow and ice at all times. We must balance this reality with the needs of faculty and students to continue with classes, exams and assignments as scheduled.
We also must consider whether it is prudent to continue with classes if it means that members of our campus community will be walking on those pathways and using those entryways while our Facilities & Operations staff are attempting to clear them, thus inhibiting the work to keep our campus safe and secure.
In the spirit of our collaborative decision-making process, Provost Joseph Karlesky has asked our faculty members for ideas and thoughts to improve the process for continuing classes during inclement weather. One idea is to have the provost and a designated faculty member involved in decisions about campus closures and delays, keeping in mind that it will not be possible to accommodate all schedules and priorities. We invite our entire campus community to share any thoughts, questions or ideas about snow days and other emergency closures with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you again for the opportunity to invite the F&M community to participate in this important process to ensure our safety this winter and throughout the year.
Vice President for Finance and Administration
In response to the following masthead editorial entitled, “Slippery Slope”
The F&M campus rejoiced last Tuesday when an over- load of snow offered most students refuge from classes and extracurriculars. But in the wake of the spontaneous day off, ice-covered paths and car-blocking snowbanks continued to inhibit the normal function of campus ac- tivities. This left the Reporter staff wondering what ef- forts could have been taken in order to keep students and faculty safe as they made their arduous journeys across campus.
While F&O worked tirelessly to salt pavements and clear parking lots, we couldn’t help but notice that most of the campus was still inaccessible and uncleared. Though this was especially dangerous for students on foot, students with handicaps faced even more treacher- ous travels. To us, this seems to imply that the College is not providing adequate resources to help keep the cam- pus clear in dangerous situations. Because our campus is really not very big, it seems that concentrated efforts and supplies should be provided in these perilous situations.
Issues of handicap accessibility aside (an issue that we have oftentimes poured over in this section), the entire campus was in danger. While freezing tempera- tures ensured that ice remained frozen and that snow re- mained piled high, students trekking to class, work, and activities noted that they were in considerable danger of falling.
We hope that what will be known as this year’s “Snow Day” will serve as a learning experience for the College. Not only is a lack of clearing snow and ice a safety is- sue for students, in the future it may be a liability for the College. With sporadic weather and dangerous condi- tions predicted to continue this Winter, we hope that a more satisfactory and acceptable plan for how to clear the campus during dangerous conditions will surface.