Cold as Hail: University responds to weather-related class cancelations

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 10:29pm

The University of Michigan has decided to cancel all events and classes on campus, beginning 12 a.m. Wednesday and intends to resume activity 7 a.m. Friday.

The University of Michigan has decided to cancel all events and classes on campus, beginning 12 a.m. Wednesday and intends to resume activity 7 a.m. Friday. Buy this photo
Madeline Hinkley/Daily

In light of sub-zero temperatures and extreme wind chills predicted for Wednesday and Thursday, the University of Michigan has decided to cancel all events and classes on campus, beginning 12 a.m. Wednesday and intends to resume activity 7 a.m. Friday. This will be the third time in 40 years the school has closed due to weather.

The University Record announced classes were canceled at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

The last time the University halted activity was in February 2015, due to a winter storm that resulted in 18 inches of snowfall. Before that, there was a closure in 2014 due to extremely cold temperatures, specifically a wind chill of minus 30 degrees. The first time the University closed was in January 1978 due to climate conditions. Weather projections estimate a wind chill of nearly minus 40 degrees for Wednesday and part of Thursday. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency early Tuesday morning.

The decision to cancel classes comes after of closures on campus and of local businesses around Ann Arbor on Monday. University student groups, such as the Michigan Student Power Network, also took to advocating for a campus closure through their #UMichColdShoulder petition, which currently has over 13,000 signatures. The petition also encouraged students to call Schlissel as well as other University administrators.  

The University joins Michigan State University and Wayne State University, as well as other public universities in the state, in canceling classes due to extreme weather conditions. The delay prompted a flurry of social media posts critical of University administration, particulary Schlissel, although the official announcement was signed by Provost Martin Philbert; Preeti Malani, chief health officer; Laurita Thomas, chief human resources officer; and Eddie Washington, executive director of the Division of Public Safety and Security.

LSA sophomore Kirsten Lanigan expressed her surprise at the class cancellation. 

“It definitely was an unexpected pleasant surprise,” Lanigan said. “I was definitely not sure whether a state of emergency would be enough for Schlissel to cancel, but it’s nice that he was willing to stoop to our level and pity us as students.”

Lanigan said getting to class in this weather would have been difficult due to living off-campus. 

“It definitely would have been a really big struggle to get to campus,” Lanigan said. “I’m not sure exactly what I would have done because I definitely live the distance where any of my classes would have been more than 10 minutes away and it would have been dangerous, so I’m really happy they canceled.”

Though the University has ultimately decided to cancel classes, disabled, injured and commuting students have already been feeling the harsh effects of the weather for days.

LSA freshman Madeline Walsh has a torn ACL, an injury that makes it difficult for her to get around campus. Walsh said the University has been doing a good job of getting the pathways clear in a timely fashion.

“Slipping was a very real possibility, but the snow hasn’t been too bad,” Walsh said. “They’re doing a pretty good job of keeping it off the most important sidewalks, so getting to the more populated areas hasn’t been too bad.”

Amir Baghdadchi, senior associate director of University Housing Association, told The Daily in an email the University staff works tirelessly day and night to maintain the campus conditions and keep the sidewalks walkable for all students.

“We have a full Facilities team that is always ready, at all hours, with shovels and snow machines,” Baghdadchi wrote. “Instead of ‘shutting down’ during the cold, our efforts ramp up, because cold can disrupt so many systems, and we have to be vigilant. Just like everything in Housing, it's a 24-hour operation: once we've done each corner of the building, we start over again to maintain safety.”

Walsh also said while the University has been doing a good job, she had to make sacrifices for her wellbeing and not attend her classes or club meetings due to the slippery sidewalks and roads last week. She noted her professors were accommodating of her situation.  

“I had to skip class on Wednesday [last week], the day it was really icy out, and there were a few club mass meetings I didn’t get to go to on Tuesday night of last week,” Walsh said.

Walsh is one of many students who lives on North Campus and takes the buses every day. On Monday, a Blue Bus slid off of Fuller Road and crashed into a tree. She said the bus crash scared her, as she is already injured, and it made her think about other students and faculty who have to drive longer distances to get to campus.

“When one of the girls said she had felt herself jolt when the bus crashed, that was a little scary, because I’m not looking to get any more hurt,” Walsh said. “It definitely was concerning, especially with all of the professors and students that drive to school. It made me think that we should probably not expect everyone to have to endure all of those conditions.”

According to First District of the Michigan State Police, which includes Clinton, Eaton, Ingham, Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe and Washtenaw Counties, there were a total of 117 crashes in the district on Monday.

The Division of Public Safety & Security issued a warning on Sunday about especially snowy and slippery roads on Monday and Tuesday. Similarly, the Ann Arbor Police Department advised city members and students to avoid driving during the snow and spend minimal amounts of time outside.

LSA sophomore Shelby Alston commutes 90 minutes each way, five days a week. She drives an hour every day and then parks 30 minutes away from campus as part of the free parking program. Alston said she often has to decide whether her safety or a class is more important.

“It’s been really tough, especially since, you know, every school from my house to the University is closing, and I know it’s going to be a dangerous drive and I find myself in my head weighing my options and sort of choosing between safety and a grade,” Alston said. “It’s really unfortunate sometimes to have to make those decisions.”

Alston noted that Perry Samson, professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, live streamed his lectures and enabled students to continue to interact even if they were watching from home. She said she wishes the University would implement more classes like Samson’s.

“I think the main issue (is) that they either need to be more lenient in their (attendance) policies or they need to have more classes that do things live streaming,” Alston said. “I thought it was amazing. He took a video of himself, had the audio streaming, and if we had any questions, we could type it in an anonymous platform and his GSIs would tell him. It was still interactive, and I wasn’t stressed because if there was snow, I could still attend lecture and still get the valuable teaching that I wanted.  Because it’s not that I don’t want to go — I want to hear what my teacher has to say. Lecture is valuable, you know?”

A Public Policy junior who requested to remain anonymous due to the small size of her class said her professor is requiring the class to log onto an online Canvas chat on Wednesday to participate in a class discussion at the normal 8:30 a.m. start time, ending at 9:50 a.m. as usual. 

“She did make it very clear that if we do not have internet or do not have access to internet that she will excuse us from class — we just have to let her know,” the student said.  

The student expressed their understanding that the online discussion is being used to avoid falling behind in class material.

“I understand where the professor is coming from,” the student said. “We only have only so many class periods throughout the semester to meet and getting behind even one can be difficult for a professor to make up, so I understand where Professor Lin is coming from.”

While the professor said the grades of students without internet will not be penalized, the student said those people will be inherently disadvantaged by missing the class material. 

“It is just a little bit difficult when some students, if they do not have access to internet, they are now missing out on a class period that the rest of the class gets to enjoy,” the student said. “Also with it being on a chat based site and not even a video chat, we are missing out on face-to-face interactions with our other students regarding information that could be used later in the class, so to me it feels like I might be missing out on a particular environment that I could learn better in.”

The student has never participated in an online class and said she is worried about being evaluated on this basis.

“It’s going to be a big group chat from my understanding — like I said, I’ve never used it before,” the student said. “I’ve never had a professor use this thing on Canvas, so I’m not 100 percent sure what its going to look like, which is also kind of nerve wracking.” 

The student said the online chat hinders the quality of discussion because students cannot speak face-to-face.

“I feel like I learn better in an environment where I can see my peers around me and by forcing us to have this discussion online, it seems like it can hinder the very collaborative environment that the Ford School likes to promote, and so this just feels like we might be losing valuable time that we could be spending in the classroom discussing this stuff,” the student said.

Northwood III Hall Director Stephanie Pocsi said in an email that students with meal plans can order Dining To-Go Meals on Wednesday and Thursday for either lunch or dinner, which will be delivered to students’ buildings or community centers.

“The meal will be delivered to the (Community Center) according to the type of meal,” Poscsi said. “Lunch will be delivered around 12 p.m. and dinner around 5 p.m. as long as the weather allows. The dining halls will still be open; we just wanted to offer an option so folks didn’t feel that they had to either walk through the winter weather or not eat.”

University buildings and local Ann Arbor businesses such as Espresso Royale will close on Wednesday and Thursday. Libraries will reopen on Friday at 8 a.m. The Ross School of Business will be locked from midnight Wednesday and will reopen at 7 a.m. Friday, but faculty and staff will be able to enter the building. Ann Arbor trash and recycling services will be delayed for two days. The Winter Engineering Career Fair, which was scheduled for Wednesday, as well as any related interviews and recruiting events, have been canceled.

Amara Shaikh contributed reporting to this article.