We understand, the weather can be unpredictable. Ithaca weather is extremely unpredictable. We live in a climate where heavy snowfall is expected in January and February. This happens every year.
On Friday morning, many students woke up to a blanket of snow covering the Ithaca region, making visibility across the street difficult. Droves of students began their morning trek from campus — hailing from North Campus, West, The Commons and Collegetown — starting their classes for the day.
Cornell did the right thing. On Friday, classes were canceled and the University closed for the day due to inclement weather. However, by waiting until classes had begun for the day — the first class starts around 8 a.m. each day — the lives and safety of the members of the Cornell community were put at risk. This is unacceptable.
The first warning came on Thursday night when just about every other institution in Ithaca announced that they would be closed due to snow the next day. An even bigger warning sign that Friday’s storm was not your average flurry came when the TCAT stopped operating at 9 a.m. on Friday. Why were classes not canceled until 9:55 a.m.?
The recent late snow day announcement highlights the downfalls of hesitation. Cornell needs to grapple with the unintended consequences of failing to make a decision in time. Since the administration waited so late in the day to shut the University, those who had already made it to campus effectively became stranded.
When the cancelation occured, the conditions had escalated so much that the University advised people to remain on campus until the roads were cleared. Had the University closed Thursday night, there would never have been this problem.
Further, this late cancelation highlights the innate problem with mandatory attendance for students. While we hope no professors would penalize their students for their absence on Friday, grade penalties will always be of a real concern for Cornellians.
Due to strict attendance policies — some classes require 100 percent attendance — there is very little room for illness, job and internship interviews, travel and emergencies. If you add a dangerous, snowy day to this list, chances are you have very little choice but to go — especially this early in the semester.
Yes, professors can be understanding. Yes, some may have more relaxed policies than others. However, students should not have to explain their life away in order to receive accommodations. The attendance policies in courses should be more forgiving.
In addition to strict attendance policies and late cancelations forcing students to go to brave the snow, staff was also faced a dangerous situation on Friday. While faculty have the discretion to cancel classes if necessary, staff do not have the same luxury to cancel work. They, too, have to juggle health and sick leave policies. Late cancelations hurt them the most, doing often thankless jobs while providing the necessary services that make the University go around. While Cornell offers a compensation increase for those that work during snow emergencies, they need to be given notice ahead of time. This is especially true since some staff members come to campus from areas such as Dryden and Cortland.
Lastly, none of this is new. Cornell has a history of inconsistent snow day policies and waiting until the eleventh hour to close. In 2018, students pushed back against the University on a day when they refused to close. Over the past few years there have been improvements, but look at where we are today.
Alumni continually flock to Facebook to joke at all the different times they had to walk up East Buffalo street in a snowstorm. Some even say the University has gotten soft over the years, closing more frequently than they had done in the past. Although that may be the case, it isn’t simply enough to cancel classes or close the campus. This must be done in advance so people can adequately prepare.
The safety of the students, faculty and staff at Cornell must be at the forefront of all University decision making. Waiting to make a choice does not help students. While we appreciate the greater frequency of campus closures, these closures need to be made in a manner that is most beneficial to all.
The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage, other columnists and advertisers.