Monday, February 9, 2015

Sort of Snow Day

by: The FAUW Board

Deciding whether or not to close UW due to harsh weather conditions is a big decision and is not an easy call to make.  However, leaving UW open when the rest of the region is closed for business (all elementary and post-secondary schools, some businesses) during the obviously terrible conditions last Monday morning (February 2) would suggest the possibility that the bar for closure at UW has risen significantly higher than it has been in the past. 

During the inevitable and hopefully multi-stakeholder discussions on this topic, FAUW hopes to see the following questions/issues addressed:

  1. What decision-making body should be responsible for approving the university’s closing procedures?  According to the UW Weather-Emergency Closing Guidelines, this is Executive Council since they approved the current closing guidelines.  Shouldn’t the guidelines be debated and approved by UW Senate? Senate currently approves the schedule each year including closure of UW over the Christmas holidays.
  2. What precisely are the consequences of closing campus?  Asking faculty, staff and students to bear additional risks by travelling to campus during extraordinary weather conditions implies the additional risks are worth taking to avoid the closure consequences.  Note that UW Weather-Emergency Closing Guidelines indicate there is no requirement to reschedule cancelled classes.
  3. What extra resources and preparations (i.e., dollars), beyond a normal weather day, did UW allocate on the morning of February 2nd to safely prepare to have 20,000+ people come to campus?
  4. Why was the announcement confirming the opening campus delayed until after 7:00 am?  What was known at 7:00 am that was not known at 6:00 am?  Should the decision be made (yea or nay) and announced at 6:00 am when there is a severe storm warning?
  5. Is leaving the decision to reschedule a class in response to a UW closure at the discretion of each course instructor (see link above to guidelines) appropriate?  Why not mandate the first lost teaching day to be made up on the first weekday in the period between the last day of classes and the start of examinations?
  6.  Is it a good or bad thing that UW staying open February 2 made the national and international news and lit up social media (UW was trending 3rd in North America on social media on Monday)?
Addressing the above questions directly, among others, will  better prepare UW to repspond to future inclement weather. 




Leave a comment and let us know what you think along with other stories about February 2nd. 

2 comments :

  1. A comment on some of the questions above:

    Question 1 - No, it should not be Senate. The Senate approves the Academic Calendar (e.g. when lectures and final exams will occur), but it does not approve closure of campus over the holidays, nor should it. That is a decision of the university administration.

    Question 2 - I don't think the university asks university members to assume additional risks. The policy states that university members need to figure out for themselves if the weather conditions makes their travel unsafe and act accordingly. If there's a problem here, it is that the university seems to be off-loading the decision onto university members, and that creates the confusion and uncertainty that annoyed many of us. But the university is not asking us to bear additional risks per se; it is acknowledging that additional risks may be present and to act accordingly. There's a difference, I think.

    Question 6: why ask this question? What good will come from such a discussion? It just looks like someone wants to give the university a black eye. Kind of childish, it seems to me.

    I have no problem with the university having stayed open on February 2nd, 2015. The weather was unpleasant, to be sure, but it did not pose a significant danger to the campus community (and the policy states the campus should close when the weather poses a "significant danger)." The rhetoric about the dangerous conditions was overblown and exaggerated. I would, however, like to see more clarity in the communications around weather. Last year, after the uproar surrounding Waterloo’s decision to stay open when it was so bitterly cold, the university started highlighting the statement that causes some confusion (“Students, faculty and staff are reminded that they are responsible for determining when weather conditions make travel unsafe. Students should consult their class and exam schedule in LEARN.”) I understand why that’s done, but it has the (unintended) effect of muddying the message; some people decide to come in, others don’t; people who come to work resent it that their good citizenship sees them working while many (most?) of those who stay home could have made it in without incident. In other words, that statement opens the door to confusion and ambiguity (the university is open, but it sort of isn’t because instructors, staff, and students take the liberty to interpret the message liberally). I would prefer more black and white messaging: the university is open, employees are expected to come to work, if coming to work poses a danger please inform your supervisor, etc.

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    1. Re #1 - seems reasonable with respect to explicit closure decision. How about the fact the guidelines discuss if and how classes are to be rescheduled after a closure decision?

      Re #2 - a large number of faculty would agree that UW is off-loading the decision-making on others to weigh risks and benefits of coming to UW.

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