There are few things as great as class cancellation.
The early portion of any spring semester at Case Western Reserve University always tends to be backlogged, as students rush to move in, get their books and supplies and figure out their schedule all in the span of a few days. All of this is accompanied by the cold Cleveland weather and the dread that comes with walking to morning classes amidst frigid wind and sleet.
It’s nice, then, when Mother Nature seemingly intervenes and gives the entire campus a breather. But as fun as it is to finally have a legitimate excuse to never leave your dorm, the weather also brings a number of thoughts to mind.
The first is in regards to our preparedness for these sorts of occurrences. This Polar Vortex was highly anticipated, but what wasn’t yet confirmed was what our response would be. It was fairly certain that there would be wind chills ranging from minus 20 to minus 30, and the days leading up to the cancellation were filled with cries and even petitions for classes to be canceled. Remarkably, it was released on Tuesday morning that CWRU would be closed except for essential staff. Students suddenly had a break in the middle of their week, and while professors rushed to rewrite their syllabi, we could finally catch up on everything we already were supposed to have done.
It’s a difficult decision to close down the entirety of the campus especially on a weekday. Academic calendars are planned out without these interruptions in mind, which does put a bit of a burden on professors in terms of course design. However, it is also difficult to justify asking students to go to class on a day where exposed skin is at risk of frostbite within 10 minutes and they often have at least 10 to 15 minute walks to class. There are a number of students that may not have been adequately prepared to deal with this issue or who have never experienced such severely cold conditions.
It’s also likely classes would have experienced low turnout whether the buildings were open or not, which would have wasted time and resources. As difficult as it is to cease the operation of an entire campus for two days, it seems unreasonable to keep it open with a student body that has little plans in leaving the confines of their own rooms.
Closing campus, however, is only half of the battle of keeping students safe from the effects of cold weather. The other challenge is ensuring that all precautions are taken in keeping students safe even when they’re for the most part going to be indoors.
As far as the university administration goes, they did their part by keeping dining services, campus transport and certain facilities management open. University Health and Counseling Services also remained open for urgent matters. Students weren’t otherwise left to their own devices, devoid of numerous campus utilities and services they depend on.
What can’t be controlled, however, is student behavior. Although numerous warnings were sent out regarding room temperatures and the danger of not shutting windows, a second set of emails were sent out when maintenance staff reported that they had seen a number of windows still open. While this issue may not seem too problematic, a burst water pipe is not a problem you want on a day with extremely cold weather.
Last year, Tyler House’s first night back from break was interrupted in the early hours of the morning when a pipe burst and flooded a room. In combination with the high output from the building’s heating, it created a sauna effect that set off a fire alarm and forced everyone outside, without enough time to get warm clothes to wear while waiting until they were allowed back in. The flooding from the incident caused considerable damage to both the floor it occurred on and the one below it.
It’s important to remember that caution during your days off is just as important as the relaxation they provide. This includes keeping warm if you must go anywhere and truly considering your use of facilities and the currently limited university resources. Essential employees aren’t getting days off, and students making their jobs as easy as possible in these instances is just as essential.
The decision by CWRU to extend us a few days of shelter from the cold was great, and highly appreciated by students—maybe even by faculty. If it should happen again, we will hopefully be even more prepared than we were this time around.