Columns, Opinions

Asker ’17: Debunking non-cancellation complaints

By
Opinions Columnist
Monday, February 9, 2015

Last week, many Brown community members were disappointed to learn that classes and administrative functions would not be cancelled on Monday, Feb. 2. The bad news came during the first quarter of Super Bowl XLIX in an email from Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, despite a Winter Storm Warning effective Monday, day and night. After tasting the snow day the week before, I was hoping to be free from the weight of classes, yet again, and I was disappointed, too.

Across campus over the next few days, many students just grumbled. But some professors made their grievances known to their students, and The Herald’s Editorial Page Board expressed its concerns with the decision.

The editorial, highlighting a common concern, called for administrators to lay out the criteria they use to decide whether to cancel operations more specifically and transparently. But the University seems to have comprehensive and clear procedures, including a 12-page Winter Storm and Blizzard Plan  and a policy page on Weather-Related Closings and Delays, which details the protocol for cancellations. The latter makes plain that University operations will be cancelled only in rare circumstances, since “most students live on or near the campus” and “changes to the academic schedule are substantively disruptive to faculty and students.” Therefore, the cancellation plan concludes, “all efforts will be made to avoid cancellation or delay of classes.”

Another prevalent complaint among community members was that the parking ban issued by Mayor Elorza precluded University employees from getting to work. Yet Carey’s email made clear that for those worried about dangerous walking conditions, the University shuttle had service to the Brown Bookstore — a relatively central location — all day. In addition, the Rhode Island Public Transportation Authority continued its bus service.

That people ended up making it to their obligations leads me to believe that these complaints were based on people’s reluctance to exhibit ordinary levels of perseverance. Yes, what amounted to four inches of snow during the day caused stress and difficulties and strained people’s patience. Yes, it was disagreeable. But as all main transportation services continued to operate, conditions were not treacherous enough to warrant closings.

Let’s be honest: No one’s safety was unduly risked, and there were ways to get to campus. Moderately bad weather is an inconvenience that we should all be able to rise above without having any serious objections. And getting up early and anticipating traffic, delayed buses and reduced speeds is not a heroic task. 

Some people argued that since all other schools in Rhode Island canceled class, it was ridiculous that Brown did not. The Editorial Page Board went so far as to request that the University “trust the decision-making process of government officials, namely by closing school when Providence public schools are closed.”

But why? Brown and the Providence Public School Department are completely different institutions with differing priorities and community populations. Public school systems must consider very young children waiting in dangerous, freezing conditions for their buses. And lest innocent children be put in harm’s way, administrators always have to worry about the slightest possibility of a bus-related accident.

In contrast, Brown is a residential college and does not have a large, especially vulnerable population with regard to age. Moreover, each college in Rhode Island has different things to consider: residential and commuter populations, campus size and staff capacity to mitigate the effects of snowfall. So, if schools’ decisions diverge, it is no reason to cry foul. It’s best to allow those who know the University’s unique community dynamics to come to a decision independently.

Another concern held that University employees have children whose schools closed. Having to report to work meant they had to find ways to supervise their kids. But parents could have used a paid vacation day, and since the email came at 6:39 p.m. the night before, they had ample time to problem solve.

I come from Michigan, which sees a lot more snow than Providence, and my public school district never canceled until around 6 a.m. the day of. And the working parents in my community always figured out a solution, even with such short notice. Was it a hassle? Sure. But bad weather creates hassles, and we do what we have to so that we can get on with our lives. 

“If workers’ children’s schools are closed, the University should help them find and afford childcare for the day,” The Herald Editorial Page Board wrote. But do we really expect — or want — employers to be responsible for the niceties and difficulties of household management? Indeed, taking on this handholding duty would baby employees and is certainly outside the University’s purview.

In the online comments section of the Herald article about the decision, a commenter echoed a campus-wide concern: “Students who are in wheelchairs or have other movement-related disabilities haven’t a chance of getting around campus today. I think the decision to not cancel classes is a bit ablist.” It’s true that those with movement-related disabilities face a greater challenge, but a link on Brown’s Student and Employee Accessibility Services website hopes to solve that problem. The SEAS shuttle system, for disabled students and employees, is available for service and runs weekdays, offering flexible “point-to-point” transportation. The site answers the FAQ “What about inclement weather?” by providing a number to call for the shuttle. I confirmed with the SEAS office that the shuttle system was in fact running on Feb. 2.

Some people seemed to be assuaging their disappointment with having to take on the first full week of classes by launching specious complaints about the administration’s decision and policies. Bad weather is inconvenient, but inconvenience is not enough to warrant cancelling classes or putting our lives on hold. If we let every inconvenience cow us, if we allowed manifestations of our reluctance to persevere and dictate our actions, we would never fulfill our long-term goals. We shouldn’t be afraid when life tries our patience and requires a little stick-to-itiveness. The University got it right when they refrained from canceling classes last week.

Nick Asker ’17 can be reached at nicholas_asker@brown.edu

  • Jack Frost

    Yes, let’s be honest – people’s safety was foolishly risked.

    I saw people constantly slipping and cars swerving all over the road. The only excuse for such a stupid comment is that you’ve never driven in snow yourself.

    “Parents could have used a paid vacation day.” You obviously don’t live in the real world, do you. Your following bit about “babying” confirms that.

    It’s not “brave,” it’s just poor judgment.

  • Karen

    “If workers’ children’s schools are closed, the
    University should help them find and afford childcare for the day,”
    Actually, the university already does this. All staff and faculty have 100 hours a year of Back-up Care that they can use in situations like this:
    http://www.brown.edu/about/administration/human-resources/benefits/child-care/back-care

    • Brownie

      Because everyone loves to leave their children with strangers.