Failure to cancel classes puts faculty, staff and students in harm’s way

by Peter Kaspari

            Like most everyone else on campus, I got an early morning phone call from Jim Thorius, vice president for planning and student development, at exactly 5:45 Wednesday morning. The phone call, as well as the identical text message and email, stated that “due to blowing snow conditions, Simpson College will operate on a two hour delayed start this morning,” with the campus opening at 10 a.m..             In my half-awakened state, I noted, “That’s nice. It’ll get expanded to a cancelation in a few hours.” I debated dragging myself to my computer to Tweet about the delay, but I figured others would be on that, and went back to sleep.             About two hours later, at 7:58 a.m., I awoke for the day. I checked my phone to find I had not missed any texts or phone calls. Looking out my window, I could see it had stopped snowing, but the drifts were so high that I could imagine everyone in the parking lot having an adventure trying to get out.             Yet the official word was that classes were still in session.             Since coming to Simpson in the fall of 2007, I have experienced exactly three days in which classes were canceled because of weather. One was during fall semester finals in 2007, one was the week before dead week of fall 2009, and the third was shortly after the second semester began in January 2010. So it’s rare for classes to be canceled because of weather. I can think of numerous occasions in which class should have been canceled, but wasn’t, including one day in particular in early 2009 when the wind chill had to have been below zero. My skin was actually burning, yet there wasn’t even a delay.             However, regardless of how rarely Simpson has classes canceled because of weather, Wednesday was the day it should have happened.             The first clue that classes should have been canceled was the large amount of professors who were canceling their classes. I personally had one of my two Wednesday classes canceled, with the professor giving our assignment over Scholar.             Another clue was the fact that the Iowa Department of Transportation openly said it wasn’t recommended that people travel in the weather.             “We’re not going to recommend that people don’t go to work, but they’re going to have to make their own judgments,” Dena Grey-Fisher, an Iowa Department of Transportation spokesperson, was quoted as saying in the online edition of the Des Moines Register.             KCCI, at 9:07 a.m., reported that Warren County, as well as several others in the Des Moines area, remained under a winter weather advisory, and also said that wind chills were expected to drop to 15 degrees below zero. They also said that although the snow was expected to end at 9 a.m., blowing snow would continue to plague the area.             With conditions like this, it’s no wonder that Central College canceled classes for the day, and many others didn’t open until noon or later. Yet Simpson remained in session, potentially putting many students, faculty and staff in danger by having them travel in the snowy weather. In fact, I received an email from one of my fellow work study employees, who lives off-campus in Indianola, who didn’t even want to come in to work because it was recommended not to travel.             I don’t know whose decision it was to allow classes to continue on Wednesday, but I feel whoever it was did not take the safety of the student body, as well as the safety of the college’s employees, into consideration. That, I feel, is worse than not having a snow day at all.