A record Rochester snowfall, travel warnings from Monroe County, school closings from seven neighboring institutions—and UR still did not cancel undergraduate classes Tuesday, to the chagrin of many students.
Student anger with the school’s decision manifested itself in a petition on the Students’ Association (SA) Government’s IMPACT site that had garnered over 730 signatures as of Wednesday—almost three times the amount needed for SA to respond.
The petition, which called on the University to cancel classes, is the most signed on the site.
Junior Kyle Stolove posted the petition midday on Tuesday, around the same time the snowfall reached 16.3 inches at the Greater Rochester International Airport, breaking the daily record of 11.1 inches set in 2004.
Stolove said he created the petition after hearing his peers talk about the conditions they had to walk through to attend classes.
“Don’t make students choose between their own safety and their academic commitments,” he said.
University Spokesperson Sara Miller said Tuesday night that the University followed policy in making its decision.
“The University will, in general, remain in operation and continue regular services and schedules regardless of adverse weather conditions,” she said. “This continuation of regular activity is important to meet the needs of students in a residential University community, with more than 75 percent of undergraduates living in campus housing.”
Miller added that exceptions to the policy can be made. On Tuesday, this was the case with the William E. Simon School of Business Administration and UR Medical Center School of Nursing.
Nearby, Monroe Community College, St. John Fisher College, SUNY Brockport, Nazareth College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Colgate Rochester Divinity School, and Finger Lakes Community College all closed Tuesday, according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Several students who signed the petition cited the University’s closures of the Simon School and School of Nursing—as well as other schools’ closures—in their grievances.
“If it’s unsafe for students to attend classes at one of the school, it’s unsafe for everyone else to go,” junior Nicholas Potter wrote in a comment on the petition.
In other comments on the petition and in interviews, students expressed concerns for the safety of commuter students, physically disabled persons, and faculty and staff, pointing to the difficulties of reaching campus and also navigating across it.
Some University shuttles faced over hour-long delays, and claims arose that drivers denied students access, which were refuted by both SA and the administration. Interstate 490 was closed for plowing purposes, the Democrat & Chronicle reported, an unprecedented measure.
“I think it puts certain students at an academic disadvantage who may not be able to get to campus,” Lindsay Wrobel, a junior and former SA Senate Deputy Speaker, said of the University’s decision. “More seriously, though, it puts the lives of students reliant on bus transportation, bus drivers, and staff in danger and forces them to decide between their physical safety and their education/livelihood.”
Calling the decision Tuesday “reprehensible,” she added that it was “an undue burden on staff that’s borderline discriminatory. Staff simply don’t have the option to just call in or cancel the way that faculty do in most cases.”
Most students interviewed had at least one professor who cancelled class.
Junior Charlie Norvell, who is currently on crutches, wrote in a comment on the petition about struggling to get around campus after Tuesday’s snowfall.
“It’d be okay if the walkways were plowed and salted,” Norvell said, “but they’re not.”
On campus that day, walkways were buried in snow, with narrow paths carved out by pedestrians the only means of walking freely. Some students resorted to walking in plowed roads to avoid trudging through the snow, while others, apparently less concerned, skied, built snowmen, and sledded throughout the day.
Another commenter, freshman Tallis Polashenski, wondered why the University doesn’t issue weather warnings as it does for crime. “Whenever there’s a robbery on campus, Public Safety emails us to let us know and adds in (something to effect of): ‘Let go of your possessions, they can be replaced, but there’s only one of you.’ How about: ‘We can let go of one day of class, they can be made up, but there’s only one of you?’”
In response to the petition, SA Senator Christian Keenan drafted a resolution Tuesday to ask administrators to reassess the school’s snow-day policies. The resolution will be voted on during next Monday’s Senate meeting.
SA President Grant Dever sent an email to undergraduates Tuesday evening acknowledging student concerns and announcing the resolution in progress. In a popular Facebook post that day, he said he didn’t go to his class that hadn’t been cancelled, either.
In another post, which featured a screenshot of an email with a professor, a student asked if their class would be cancelled.
“No way. Maybe at a lesser university,” the professor replied. The student said the class ended up being called off.