- Category: Volume 85 (Fall 2013 - Spring 2014)
- Published: 12 February 2014
Spring semester seems to almost be a contradiction as we continue to be bombarded by a new snowstorm each week. It seems as though since the semester started we cannot go a week without looking out the window to watch the roads get covered in a new fresh layer of snow. While the ground ices over, students and faculty alike await to hear of the University closings and class cancellations that are delayed or never come. With a University student ratio of 50 percent on campus and 50 percent commuter, according to Vaughn Clay, here at the Outlook we believe these absent or late closings to be very dangerous.
Snowy school days for the 50 percent of students living on campus provide their own sets of issues. Even though our campus is fairly small, the residents at the University still have to make their way to the educational buildings.
An editor who lives on campus said, "It's so dangerous. I live on campus so I don't have to worry about the roads or anything but the walkways are never salted or shoveled properly and I always get nervous walking through the underpass because it gets really slippery."
For the 30 percent of students who live in off-campus housing there is always the danger of driving on the roads. A lot of students in the area live on back roads in various towns close to the University. These back roads are not always plowed and tend to freeze over into ice. It can take a few days for the different communities to salt or plow the roads that students live on, making it difficult for them to get to campus.
The other 20 percent of commuters, along with the University faculty, often come from their hometowns. These are the students who tend to commute from anywhere of 30 minutes to over an hour away. Driving that distance in a snow-conditioned road often provides a lot of danger for students. They often tell their horror stories of their cars spinning out on the highways, or how the traction was an issue for their car on the way to class, or how their 15 minute commute suddenly turned into an hour due to the bad weather conditions.
As a University that penalizes its students for missing class, we believe there needs to be more consideration of the students' and faculty's time and safety. We understand that the process for closing the University must meet a specific requirement and should be done with caution; however the delayed cancellation from the past few storms have put students and faculty at risk. For example, last week's cancellation of class ten minutes before classes started had commuters and faculty driving to and from school in unsafe weather conditions, and the continuation of classes after Governor Christie declared NJ to be in a State of Emergency was also dangerous.
Vice President Patti Swannack commented, "We planned to close at 11:15 am (at the end of the academic frame) but because the conditions seemed to be deteriorating faster than what was predicted, we allowed students and employees to leave as soon as possible."
An editor who commutes from home said, "I got here really early to beat the snow and then I had to drive home in it with no need to be here whatsoever. Last time I had to drive home in this weather it took me over an hour to travel the same route that usually takes me 20 minutes. I understand not cancelling until the day of, but 15 minutes before class is insane. It's dangerous no matter how far you're commuting. My family is worried too because I have the farthest commute."
Swannack explained the complicated process of school closings, through contacting a number of departments starting with the MUPD for any information from the NJ State Police, University Personal, Vice President of Student Life and Leadership Engagement, then to the Provost who makes the final decision. When closing the University, they do have to consider the forecast, impact on campus activities, and road, parking lots, and sidewalks conditions.
On the University's Facebook status posted on Feb. 3 about a delayed closing, students and community members criticized the late announcement. One student pointed out that as a University that loses students every semester to a car accident, the idea of putting more students at risk on the roads should be a major concern.
Another student commented on seeing three accidents on the drive home from school as their car spun out, explaining how dangerous the roads really were to be on. Other comments called for a better system for communication for students to be informed of cancellations from the school.
The Outlook staff suggests that the University takes into account the students and faculty who have to commute to campus during the snow storms. As more snow storms continue to threaten the NJ coast, the University should take steps to close sooner, rather than later, in order to save members of the campus community from a dangerous drive or walk.