February 16, 2007

Cornell Blasted by Faculty, Staff

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Students, faculty and staff began circulating an online petition yesterday to criticize the way Cornell officials executed the University’s closing this past Wednesday. The letter urges Cornell to re-examine “the University’s policies concerning extreme-weather closures and the way it carries out those policies.”

As of last night, there were 1,000 signatures on the petition.

According to the online site, Thomas Bruce, director of legal information Institute in the Law School, started the petition.

In an e-mail sent to some Cornell faculty and staff members, Bruce asked colleagues to sign the petition and forward it to at least six others.

The petition called for uniform and equitable determination of essential and non-essential employees and stated current University policies force lower-income employees who live farthest from campus to “run greater risks” because “they are least able to afford a loss of a day’s pay.”

It also asked for greater uniformity throughout the University in determining essential and non-essential staff. According to the petition, current “closing notices are phrased in a way that gives maximum discretion to individual units when determining who should and should not report for work.”

According to a statement issued yesterday by Stephen Golding, executive vice president of finance and administration, the decision not to close was made at 3:30 a.m., and at that time, information suggested the storm’s effects would be “manageable.”

“The issue of closing the Cornell campus due to weather conditions is never simple. University leadership charged with making this decision strives to balance concerns about maintaining personal safety with the knowledge that this is a residential research university,” the release stated.

Although several people are involved in the decision-making process, Simeon Moss ’73, director of the Cornell press office, said that the final decision was made by the executive vice president.

At the time of the storm, Golding was out of town.

There have been times in Cornell’s history when the provost was in charge of whether or not to close the University, according to Sun archives. Before Wednesday, Cornell last cancelled classes for snow on March 4, 1999.

University officials also met at 10:15 a.m. to discuss storm conditions. According to Golding’s statement, prior to the meeting, the “amount of snow was not considered excessive when compared to previous snowfalls when the campus had been open and classes held.”

Despite the University’s reassurance that the decision was made with safety in mind, several faculty and staff who signed the petition were angered that Cornell waited until noon before announcing its closing. Many thought University officials placed staff in danger by forcing them to commute to work in such conditions.

Several others cited past instances in which Cornell has not closed.

The petition calls Cornell’s practices “objectionable when they are accompanied by misplaced bravado” and urges the University to “plan to proceed with a ‘minimal operations’ status” when anticipating extremely bad weather.

In response to the petition, Golding stated, “The petition being circulated contains some thoughtful and constructive points. The University will take those comments, along with those from other members of the Cornell community, into consideration as part of its regular process of evaluating how best to handle emergency conditions.”