Like many students, staff members and faculty members, Sunday night was spent watching the Super Bowl and eagerly awaiting an email from Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06.
Was Brown going to succumb to the National Weather Service’s projected 28-hour long Winter Storm Warning? Was it going to agree with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s parking ban and all but one Rhode Island school superintendent?
According to protocol, the executive vice president for finance and administration decides whether “to close or delay the opening of administrative offices,” while the “decision to cancel or delay scheduled classes and academic functions” is made by the provost.
While recognizing the severity of the impending storm and the potential dangers and complications that would arise for the University’s 8,848 students, 718 faculty members and 4,674 full- and part-time staff members, Carey and Provost Vicki Colvin concluded that sufficient safe transportation was available for its employees and that snow would be adequately cleared to continue normal operations Monday.
Though Brown has published the Winter Storm and Blizzard Plan — a 12-page document outlining the University’s preparedness and policies in the event of an emergency — the documents does not specifically lay out the considerations or metrics the University uses to determine whether to shut down. It does note that the school“should remain in normal operations at all times to the fullest extent possible.”
In announcing that normal operations would continue, Carey was careful to remind members of the community not to take any risks in traveling to campus and to stay home if too dangerous. But by essentially punting on the decision, the administration forced workers to make a difficult choice between their safety and their commitments at Brown. For hourly, low-income workers who rely on their paychecks, not going to work is not a real option.
But there are many factors that should be considered in closing the University — factors that extend beyond the possibility of safe travels to and from Brown. In particular, many members of the community are parents. When their children’s schools are canceled due to weather but their work is not, these individuals must scramble to devise alternative childcare plans or leave their children at home unsupervised. This issue is compounded when the final decision to open or close schools is announced in the evening, past 6 p.m., as it has each time this semester. If workers’ children’s schools are closed, the University should help them find and afford childcare for the day. If public transportation is restricted and a parking ban is in effect, the University must find ways to make the commute manageable. If we cannot meet these commitments to our community, then operations have to be drastically pared down during inclement weather.
The threat of blizzards and hurricanes in New England is of such constant concern that responding to weather should not feel as though it is done on an ad hoc basis. We need basic, public guidelines for deciding whether campus should be closed so it does not feel like a guess based on varying meteorological predictions. To help parents plan, the University should set a deadline for these decisions. It should also, when possible, trust the decision-making process of government officials, namely by closing school when Providence public schools are closed. Lastly, it might look to establish precedents for how to respond to specific forecasts and manage University operations accordingly.
If community members must risk injury traveling to work and class, they should at least have confidence in their administrators.
While the occasional snowball fight can be an enjoyable break from studying, when the weather conditions place community members in life-threatening situations, we would rather everybody stay safe and warm.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Zoila Bergeron ’17, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15 and Katherine Pollock ’16. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.