For some odd reason, Cornell seems to take pride in its lack of snow days. Even when surrounding premises close down in the worst of weather conditions, Cornell remains open. When I first arrived on campus in August, I was shocked to learn that despite Ithaca’s harsh winters, snow days take place rarely, if ever, every ten years or so.
Surprisingly, Winter Storm Stella forced the university to cancel classes and close down most operational services from 12 p.m. on Tuesday to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday. This was the first full-day closure since 1993. Many students were grateful that classes and exams were cancelled during this stressful prelim season, while others were relieved to see that the university finally came to its senses in such hazardous circumstances.
Nevertheless, Cornell could have saved itself a lot of trouble had it reacted more quickly in response to such an urgent situation. It was not until 10:42 a.m. on Tuesday, March 14 that the administration sent out the CornellALERT emails stating that the campus would close at noon.
Several weather advisories had already been broadcast across the northeast region long before the university made the decision to close down. The National Weather Service had issued a storm warning to Tompkins County from 8 p.m. on Monday to 8 p.m. on Wednesday. Most other peer institutions around the northeast as well as in Ithaca had issued closures on Monday evening.
Yet Cornell waited until the last minute before issuing a shutdown, at the risk of the safety of its students, faculty and staff. While some professors used their discretion to cancel morning classes, the university administration deferred their decision until late morning despite adverse weather conditions that had not only been forecasted, but were distinctly visible.
The university needs to make clear, prompt decisions in the case of such events. Although administrative complications are understandable, the safety and well-being of the people who constitute Cornell should be of top priority. Most students who attended morning classes were able to commute back home easily because they live on or nearby campus. However, not all staff members live in such proximity to the University. For some, it takes two or more hours to travel to and from Cornell. The University could have saved all this hassle had it opted to close down in advance.
Cornell also needs to reexamine whether its employees are being overworked. While it is important to have roads cleared for people to be able to move through, it seems unreasonable for the work to have to be done past midnight. At 2 a.m. on Wednesday, I was shocked to hear snowplows roaring outside of Balch Hall. Was it absolutely necessary for the person in the car to risk his or her own safety to be plowing past midnight?
Cornell prides itself in being a caring community concerned for the physical and mental health of its people. However, I can’t help but wonder why precautionary measures could not have been taken beforehand under extreme weather conditions, when the community needed immediate action the most.
DongYeon (Margaret) Lee is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here, There and Everywhere appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.