Posted on 10 April 2013.
The snow started coming down about 9 p.m. Indiana Wesleyan University students started getting their hopes up about 11 p.m.
When all was said and done the next day, Monday, March 25, Marion’s emergency services reported a total of 11.5 inches of snow. Parts of IWU’s campus received up to a foot of snow, with eight inches in some places coming before sunrise.
Morning came, but to the dismay of students, an email from the university canceling classes did not.
John Jones is the vice president for technology and facilities services at IWU and is the school’s primary monitor of severe weather. Jones chairs a committee that convenes when conditions might call for a cancellation, one that met early that Monday morning and made a recommendation to the university’s management team to keep the school open.
According to Jones, the committee reached this consensus based on local authorities’ decision to issue a travel watch instead of a travel warning. A warning prohibits all non-emergency travel on roads, while a watch grants travel to and from work, allowing IWU to open for its faculty and commuting students. Jones said the decision to cancel classes happened late morning, and shut campus down at 3 p.m.
“Since a decision was made early in the morning hours to be open, there wasn’t a significant benefit to closing later in the morning or at noon,” Jones said in an email, noting the fear of endangering night class traffic. “As the day progressed, there was a growing sense that employees and commuter students may have difficulty traveling home since it continued to snow most of the day.”
The decision to cancel classes involves more than just telling professors not to come in, making Jones’ job a bit trickier.
“Closing the campus is a complex undertaking and that is why it doesn’t happen very often. If the campus is closed because of a weather event, teams of essential employees are still required to be onsite to handle the basic life safety elements of a residential campus. Closing also impacts class schedules, campus visits, special guests/guest speakers, scheduled events, etc.,” Jones said, noting decisions are made with safety first in mind. “We follow the recommendation of local authorities, but encourage employees and students to use their best judgment when deciding to travel.”
Many professors took advantage of that best judgment, as many classes were cancelled in the morning despite the school remaining open. At least one professor stayed home but Skyped into his class in the morning.
Anne Bruehler, assistant professor of TESOL, held most of her classes, minus an afternoon session that was cancelled because of the 3 p.m. closure. Bruehler said faculty didn’t receive any communication concerning the situation until the all-campus notice about noon that day. She said faculty can get just as excited for snow days as students, especially when the roads are hazardous.
“I would have preferred if they would have closed earlier, especially because it seems like they closed once the roads were fine,” Bruehler said. “I live just a few blocks from campus, so I could walk in, but the roads were really bad in the morning, and I know a lot of people didn’t come in just because they were so bad.”
Bruehler’s husband, Dr. Bart Bruehler, assistant professor of New Testament, was one of those professors who cancelled a small, commuter-heavy class that Monday.
While Anne Bruehler said adjusting syllabi to account for cancellations “can be a hassle,” she said professors are able to make accommodations to make up the lost time.
Even two weeks later, student opinion on the matter is still split. Some students, like Alyssa Campbell (fr), said although she enjoyed the snow the night before, she hoped for a cancellation that next day. Even so, she said there wasn’t too much danger to residential students.
“I think it could have been almost a hazard for some people,” said Campbell, who was on crutches at the time. “But I think we did fine. The sidewalks were clear; you could get where you needed to go.”
Other students, like Patrick Carter (so), saw more potential harm in the situation. Noting the commuter students and professors, he said it was even “hard to cross campus” during his late-morning classes.
Despite the excessive snow, Carter said he didn’t get his hopes up, but still used the strategy employed by countless other IWU students.
“With as heavy as things were coming down, I didn’t necessarily expect the university to cancel things, but I did expect to have professors call off,” Carter said. “Basically I went to bed checking my email and woke up checking my email.”