As the University recovers from winter’s ravages, the administration continues work on its snow policy with the help of a new committee.
After the now-infamous polar vortex disrupted many students’ return travels to school in early January, some hoped classes would be delayed, but the semester began as scheduled.
During a subsequent Senate Advisory Committee for University Affairs meeting in which faculty expressed discontent over school remaining open, University Provost Martha Pollack said the administration lacked appropriate mechanisms to close the University even if they wanted to.
“That said, after this was all over, I and some of the other executive officers really strongly believe that we … need to revisit this policy,” Pollack said.
In response, the University’s Committee on Emergency Closure Procedures Specific to Severe Weather was formed.
To gather opinion from the various University units, the 24 members are from a variety of departments and include Chief Health Officer Robert Winfield; Laurita Thomas, associate vice president of human resources; Andy Burchfield, director of emergency management; Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones and Dentistry Prof. Rex Holland, a member of SACUA.
“There were many concerns raised by faculty, staff, students and parents regarding this decision,” the committee’s charge document states. “A review of our current policies and procedures specific to severe weather is warranted to ensure they are in alignment with our principles and values of stewardship and safety.”
One such concern was in regard to staff, and was epitomized after hazardous temperatures forced the University to cancel class just two weeks later.
While classes were canceled Jan. 28, dining halls, libraries, buses and health services remained open. All 28,500 staff members were instructed to report to work. A memo sent out to faculty and staff did request supervisors be flexible due to the conditions, but staff members unable or unwilling to brave the cold had to use a vacation day or unpaid time off.
One University staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, said they disapproved of the University’s decision to require faculty and staff to report to work.
“That couldn’t possibly be fair,” the staff member said. “If the students are available to come to the library, they will. That doesn’t mean we need to be open. We only needed a bare-bones staff to run the library that day.”
However, another staff member, who works in a dining hall, said it was necessary that dining hall staff show up for work regardless of the conditions, since a large number of students, especially freshmen in the dorms, rely on their meal plans.
Under the current emergency closure policy, no distinction is drawn between critical and non-critical staff. A “Critical Services” subcommittee of the larger severe weather committee is addressing the question in bi-monthly meetings.
Committee member Kathleen Donohoe, the associate director of University human resources, said the subcommittee’s goal is “to define policy and practice for the sustainability of critical operations … and to recommend systems to support the work life issues affecting both critical and non-critical staff.”
Donohue said critical staff would be those working in facilities and services that must be maintained around the clock, such as the hospital, dining halls, dorms and snow removal.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said some staff members are not bound to the office for their work, and an updated policy may qualify that distinction.
“Some employees have the ability to do their jobs from home so there’s flexibility that exists now,” Fitzgerald said.
The committee’s second monthly meeting is approaching, but no changes will be made until the policy review is finished in April, and members submit a list of recommendations to the committee’s sponsors: Pollack, Ora H. Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs and Timothy P. Slottow, executive vice president and chief financial officer.