Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

Despite a petition with over 11,000 signatures calling for class cancellation in the midst of the polar vortex last Thursday, classes continued as usual.

February 3, 2019

Dean of Faculty Seeks Data After Days of Wintry Weather

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Correction: The Sun previously reported that the Faculty Senate was posing questions, when in fact it was the Dean of Faculty. 

The Dean of Faculty posed questions to the Cornell community regarding the University’s inclement weather policy following a week of severe weather punctuated by a student-led petition to cancel classes, burst pipes across campus and temperatures dropping below zero.

A university solicitation encouraged individuals to submit input on how to address a wide range of weather situations and concerns. Questions asked about what “reasonable protective clothing” entails, the risks associated specifically with morning classes and evening prelims, travel time to class and policies for individuals whose health issues would be intensified by the cold weather.

“Gathering this data does not mean that the decision to stay open last week was flawed,” Dean of Faculty Charles Van Loan told The Sun. “It means simply that we want to learn from the experience. And with climate change that is super important.”

Last week, university administration decided to uphold regular school routine while outdoor temperatures — not accounting for wind chill — dropped as low as minus 5 degrees.

“When everyone signed the petition to get classes canceled and [President Pollack] did nothing, I feel like the voices of students were blatantly ignored,” Moriah Adeghe ’21 said in response to the faculty’s solicitation.

“After we hear from faculty students and staff we will have the raw material to figure out how to approach this kind of weather event,” Van Loan said.

Wind chill temperatures at or below minus 18 degrees can cause frostbite in a half hour, according to weather.gov. Temperatures on Thursday reached as low as minus five degrees and wind gusts as high as 22 miles per hour.

A trek to class, such as from Cascadilla Hall to the Dairy Bar, can take around 24 minutes, according to Google Maps.

On Thursday, TCAT offered free bus rides to all in response to the extreme weather.

Cornellians reacted to the wind chill warning by signing a petition for classes to be closed. The petition exploded in popularity, gathering thousands of signatures the night of its release.

Petition signers also referenced the policies of other local institutions — on Thursday, Ithaca Central School District was closed due to inclement weather, while Ithaca College delayed opening until 10:50 a.m.

“More than 10,000 students came together by signing a petition in just a few hours and collectively, we made a statement. Administration not responding to us was almost a statement against our collective action as students,” Adeghe said.

“I hope that in the future we as students can have our voices heard,” Adeghe said following the University’s decision to review inclement weather policies. “If we get enough support hopefully we won’t have to result to change.org petitions to try and ensure our safety.”

Cornell’s current inclement weather policy policy specifies that the president can authorize an early closing, delayed opening or full closing depending on what the weather warrants.

According to the site, the policy was last fully reviewed in November 2017.