To the surprise of many students, Western Michigan University held classes Tuesday, Jan. 29 despite the horizontally-blowing snow and frigid temperatures.
The weather caused hazardous conditions and many angry tweets about the University’s decision to remain open.
The Western Herald reported a Tuesday morning accident at the Howard Street roundabout that led to the rerouting of Metro buses normally scheduled to travel through campus.
During the commute to classes, students living on and off campus had difficulties walking on the sidewalks and staying on the roads.
“I was not expecting us to have classes today based off of conditions,” Student Body President Joe Sánchez said. “Some of the roads on campus aren’t plowed well and some of the sidewalks aren’t cleared well.”
Sánchez said the decision to stay open leaves students with the choice between their education and financial safety or personal safety as accidents could occur.
Between classes and their commutes, students tweeted the University to voice their safety concerns.
Absolutely appalled by @WesternMichU and @Pres_Montgomery for not canceling today. I was going 15mph and sliding everywhere. I was sitting in class watching busses get stuck on campus every 15 mins. You are putting LIVES at risk. Do better.— Brenna (@brennajohnson3) January 29, 2019
I hate skipping class but when my car is stuck in my own lot and my only other real option is being outside for 30+ minutes to use public transportation while temperatures continue to drop I don't feel I have any other choice. Come on @WesternMichU this is a safety matter— n8 (@yungFaygo) January 29, 2019
“Students aren’t making that up, it’s stuff that they see,” Sánchez said. “It shows you that it is unsafe outside.”
Sánchez tweeted asking WMU students to share any problems they faced due to the weather conditions so he could document them for the administration. Currently, there are over 50 responses.
If you are a WMU STUDENT and had a specific problem yesterday or today due to the weather or believe conditions are unsafe....respond to this tweet or email me at wsa-president to document them for administration— WSA President Sánchez (@WSA_President) January 29, 2019
“That was more reactive in terms of getting students’ voices in one spot and documenting that, and pushing for administration to make a decision and realize that students are concerned about their safety,” Sánchez said.
He hopes that the information will start a discussion with administration so that there are “better procedures and better outcomes in the future.”
Sánchez and other students are seeking a clear answer from the University as to why classes were not cancelled Tuesday hoping their frustrations are being heard.
“Students are going to keep speculating, and students are going to keep thinking of Western in a negative way,” Sánchez said.
University Spokeswoman Paula Davis said the administration was “constantly monitoring conditions.”
“Today was no different,” Davis said in a statement to the Western Herald Tuesday evening. “We were keeping watch on a number of issues — on the wind chill, on snow accumulation, on the condition of campus surfaces as well as the state of off-campus roadways.”
Tuesday afternoon’s discussions focused on commuters. WMU tries to provide two hours notice of closings and cancellations so that people don’t start their drive, Davis said. They also pay attention to wind chill.
“We follow Centers for Disease Control and the National Weather Service guidelines,” Davis said. “The wind chill temperature threshold that is usually used for closure when there is precipitation is equal to or less than minus 20 degrees. Since late Monday, the forecasts indicated this wind chill threshold would be reached at around 6 p.m. today. And as we moved through the day, that forecast held true.”
Later this week, Sánchez will share the information he received with President Montgomery. He hopes to talk about “(the University’s) decision making and why they decided to go a different route than listening to the frustration.”
“We (WSA) do take these concerns that students express into serious consideration to represent them well,” Sánchez said. “We (students) have more power than we think and, if we are able to voice our opinions at large, sometimes we can push administration to really think about the decisions that they make and how they impact us directly.”
WMU made the decision to cancel classes after 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
“The weather forecast called for wind chill of around minus 18 at 5 p.m. and minus 22 at 6 p.m,” Davis said. “With all factors considered and ongoing discussions about possible actions, the decision was made to move forward with the 5 p.m. closure.”
WMU also called off all classes for Wednesday, when record-breaking temperatures are supposed to hit. Nothing has been said yet regarding classes being cancelled Thursday.
“A number of factors play into the decision to close or delay due to inclement weather,” Davis said. ‘Safety is, of course, our primary concern.”
Davis said the administration “certainly does value and listens to input“ and has been responding to comments and information requests throughout the day.