This story has been updated to include comments from University President Mark Schlissel
Following Monday’s snow day, University President Mark Schlissel released a letter on his website thanking University employees who kept critical operations running while classes were canceled.
“This was my first major Michigan snowstorm, and my reaction to your response over the last two days is simply, WOW!” Schlissel said, addressing snow removal crews, Health System employees and residence hall workers, among others.
“Yesterday was the second time in 37 years that we have canceled classes due to bad weather,” Schlissel wrote. “We don’t take this decision lightly, and I appreciate that we have strong procedures in place to decide whether and when to reduce operations in the important interest of community safety.”
Under this new protocol, called the Emergency Reduction in Operations, the University’s Division of Public Safety and Security spearheads evaluation of whether canceling classes is necessary, and reports their assessment to the University president, who makes the final call.
In a release Sunday night, DPSS Executive Director Eddie Washington wrote that dangerous road conditions had played a main role in his recommendation to cancel classes.
“Snowfall totals of 12 to 18 inches with high winds are making the roads dangerous, especially for the many faculty, staff and students who live outside the city of Ann Arbor,” he said.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said Monday that Washington’s recommendation was based on consultation with numerous sources, including the National Weather Service, the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County officials.
Washington subsequently relayed information to individuals from the Office of the Vice President for Communications, the Office of the Provost, University Plant Operations and the Office of Student Life via conference call. Ultimately, the group decided canceling classes would be the best move — a suggestion that Washington ultimately delivered to University President Mark Schlissel.
“Really recognizing that there is a significant number of University employees, faculty and staff who live elsewhere in Washtenaw County and beyond, and also recognizing that there are some students who are not necessarily in Ann Arbor … It was really that consideration of what conditions could be,” Washington said.
The new system resulted from a task force to review University operation reduction procedures after some students, faculty and staff expressed concerns that the University did not cancel classes last year during a period of inclement weather in the first week of January, prompting a review of the University’s severe weather policy.
The University later announced a cold day in late January.
Following that cold day, University Provost Martha Pollack said in a Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting that policies then in place were not sufficient to address last-minute cancellation of classes.
“By the time it became clear that we were facing an extraordinary weather event, we realized that we didn’t have appropriate mechanisms to close the University even if we wanted to,” she said. “Closing a university is more like closing a city than closing a building. You can’t just close; there is a hospital, there is a police force, there are students on campus who need to be fed.”
Though Monday’s snow day was the second cancellation of classes in the past year, Fitzgerald said closure will not likely become a yearly trend.
“I think what we have is really a coincidence of two winters,” he said. “What will happen in the future is just impossible to predict.”