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Frigid temperatures cancel classes on Jan. 30

Classes and co-curriculars canceled, staff asked to choose between vacation day and risking travel in cold weather 

Bejita Lamichhane

Contributing Writer

Grace Bodnovich

Contributing Writer

The Emergency Steering Committee (ESC) announced cancellations of classes on Wednesday, Jan. 30 in order to mitigate the risk of sustained exposure to cold temperatures and wind chills. The temperature reached a high of three degrees Fahrenheit between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. Between 6 p.m. and 12 a.m., the high was reported to be around nine degrees.

Different campus departments remained open, however, and staff carried on with their duties despite the weather warning issued by the National Weather Service. 

The email sent out to the campus community regarding class cancellations raised some questions regarding staff safety. Email correspondences between Laura Burch, an associate professor of French and Francophone Studies, and Angela Johnston, chief of staff and secretary of the College, were released to the campus, shedding light on the controversial decision. Given the option to either come into work or use a vacation day, Burch initially expressed her displeasure concerning the day off for students but not staff by writing, “What message is the College sending to staff by requiring staff who are concerned for their safety to use a vacation day in order to stay safe and warm?” 

Some staff members did choose to come into work on Wednesday, and one anonymous staff member remarked that they chose to come to work despite the cold because they had work that needed to be completed and did not want to use up a vacation day that they reserve for other purposes. 

In a response to address Burch’s concerns, Johnston wrote, “Most faculty and staff can come in and stay within one building, with movement limited to and from vehicles. For those employees whose jobs ordinarily require traveling between many buildings, such as the mail service and grounds crew, we made particular arrangements to adjust their work day to limit time spent outside.”

When asked how the staff members were managed, General Manager of Catering and Retail Operations Donna Yonker said, “Academic retail locations were closed, while the Lowry Dining Hall and MacLeod’s were open for normal business hours.”

Yonker added, “To provide late food service to the students, Mom’s was open but closed at midnight.” On a normal day, Mom’s is open until 2 a.m.

“Staff scheduled to work in the closed locations had the opportunity to work in open locations or to take a vacation day if they chose to do so,” Yonker stated. Anticipating fewer students, the employees were also offered more flexibility in their schedule. “Staff scheduled to work in Mom’s had the opportunity to begin their shift earlier to avoid taking vacation times since Mom’s closed early,” she concluded.

Some staff members spoke out in support of the College’s decision. “I do not feel in any way slighted or degraded by the decision to have the offices open for business even when the students didn’t have class,” one staff member remarked. “The students are our priority and should be.”

As for staff who came into work on Wednesday, the Emergency Steering Committee (ESC) did not consider a pay increase because it was considered a regular work day and the weather did not prohibit staff who worked inside from performing their usual work duties. For staff members who were working outside, such as the Grounds department, they were given a wide variety of jackets, hats and gloves that would protect them from the elements. Their time spent working outdoors was also reduced and/or limited.  

“Jan. 30 was a scheduled work day,” Beau Mastrine, director of Grounds, said. “Grounds staff worked inside that day.”

Johnston stated, “The committee believed that by allowing staff to take a vacation day without repercussions was allowing them to make the best choice for themselves about whether or not they believed they could safely get to campus and/or be outside. I think that decision shows appreciation for and value towards our staff, not the opposite, while also enabling the College to function as an institution that was open.”

Concerns regarding driving to and from work were also raised in Burch’s email. While students were advised to limit their time outside, the majority of the staff had to go outside in order to drive to work.

In Johnston’s response, she mentioned, “The National Weather Service issued a windchill warning. Cautions were issued pertaining to dress and time spent outside. There were no travel warnings issued for our area by the Ohio Department of Transportation. Therefore, driving was not expected to present unusual risks.” 

The Student Government Association (SGA) also corresponded with Dean of Students Scott Brown to express the concerns of students, including a story about a student who fell and was at urgent care awaiting an x-ray of her wrist. 

“Even if the College had closed campus, staff from Security and Protective Services, Facilities, Custodial, Grounds, Residence Life and Dining Services would still have been required to report,” Johnston informed. “They are considered essential personnel necessary to maintain a safe campus for the 2,000 students residing here.”

ESC maintains that much thought and consideration were put into the decision to close parts of the campus with the utmost thoughts of safety and wellbeing for students and staff alike. Johnston assured that “ESC will continue to evaluate each factor in the totality of its assessment of any situation and make the best decision it can to ensure the safety of the campus community.”

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