University News

U.’s Sandy precautions stir few complaints in aftermath

By
Contributing Writer
Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast two weeks ago, the University canceled all classes Oct. 29 and Oct. 30 as a precautionary measure. The decision to cancel classes was mostly met with supportive responses from students and faculty members, but several faculty members reported a “disruption involved in canceling classes,” Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 said. 

In Providence, the storm caused less damage relative to other coastal areas like New Jersey and New York. More than 1,600 Providence residents were left without power during the storm, but the city suffered little flooding.

The University reported in an email to the Brown community that the worst of the storm was “some downed trees and only minor damage to a small number of facilities.”

And while many students celebrated the unexpected holiday, some professors said rearranging their plans for the semester was problematic.

“I didn’t appreciate ‘abundance of caution’ as a good motto for Brown,” wrote Associate Professor of Engineering Jerry Daniels in an email to The Herald, referring to a University email sent to faculty apologizing for the added difficulty of changing course plans mid-semester. 

Daniels also wrote that this decision was especially frustrating because “predictions and actual weather were not that bad” near campus compared to other East Coast areas.

As a possible solution to professors concerned about losing those two days, Schlissel said he offered the first two days of reading period for faculty members to make up classes.

But Schlissel said many professors also praised the administration for its decision. “Most faculty who did write to us, to the President and me, thanked us for this abundance of caution, saying that it’s never bad to make a mistake and err on the side of caution,” he said.

“The idea that we take safety very seriously is something that the members of our community appreciate,” President Christina Paxson said. 

The decision to cancel classes that Monday was made around 7:30 p.m. Sunday, with the decision to cancel class Tuesday announced around the same time Monday.  Brown’s risk management team – led by Stephen Morin, director of the office of environmental health and safety – made the decision based on several factors.

“That group monitored many things, including weather forecasts, but also a recommendation by our state government,” said Schlissel, who met with the risk management team before it made its final decision.

Paxson also said the group considered multiple factors before canceling classes. The group tried to “get a good sense of how safe it would be for the faculty, staff and students,” Paxson said, citing Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s ’75 P’14 declaration of a state of emergency the Sunday prior as well as Providence Mayor Angel Taveras’ decision to close the city. 

Though classes have been similarly canceled in the past, usually following snowstorms, the University has not canceled classes for two consecutive days in recent memory. According to the University’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety’s website, because “most students live on or near the campus and the fact that changes to the academic schedule are substantively disruptive to faculty and students, all efforts will be made to avoid cancellation or delay of classes” due to weather.