On Nov. 20, high winds, heavy snowfall, low visibility and slick roads made walking around campus and travelling home extremely difficult, prompting administrators to cancel the evening classes.
In such situations, NMU typically cancels classes, closes offices and curtails services.
The decision to shut down the campus is made by Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Susan Koch with help from the Public Safety Director Ken Chant. The two discuss the impending weather conditions using information from sources such as the National Weather Service, the Marquette County Central Dispatch and local media for other local cancellations.
“For me, safety is always the paramount consideration,” Koch said. “I certainly don’t want to call an unnecessary snow day; but I would rather err on the side of safety than anything else.”
The decision making process can start as early as 4 a.m. for full day cancellations, according to Chant. Factors he considers include whether the NMU groundskeepers can keep pace with the snowfall and whether poor road condition and limited visibility pose a danger to students and staff traveling to and from campus.
After the information is gathered, Chant will make the call to Koch to decide whether or not to have classes. The decision to cancel classes is made by 7 a.m., but the two try to make the decision as soon as possible. The process is repeated at 2 p.m. in case of evening cancellations and that announcement is made by 3 p.m. or sooner.
The policy, however, does raise some questions. One of them is what to do for bitter cold.
“Over the years, the university has closed once for cold, and it was minus 50 with the wind chill,” said Chant. “But with the amount of snow we get here, the cold isn’t as big of an issue.”
Chant added that NMU has looked into changing the policy to include cold, but the National Weather Service does not have any benchmarks to define a day as being too cold.
If the call is made to cancel classes, the university then has to let students, staff and faculty know.
“The announcement comes out of Public Safety,” said Chant. “From there we use the BRRR-line, and send out text messages and e-mails. If you signed up for the emergency text system, then you should get that.”
The BRRR line (227-2777) is the Northern’s official inclement weather phone line, where an automated message says whether or not school is cancelled for the day.
Public Safety also informs local media of the cancellation and calls are also sent out to on-campus housing staff members.
However, some staff members still must come to work regardless of the weather. Workers at the Ripley Heating Plant, Public Safety and Dining Services are required to keep the essential parts of Northern still moving.
The biggest downside of having a snow day is the loss of time for professors with their students, according to Koch.
“Losing an academic day or part of a day is a relatively big issue for faculty who have important academic goals that they are trying to achieve within a limited time frame,” said Koch. “The loss of a day, though not necessarily or always a major problem, does affect classes in that it requires that the instructor make alternative plans for meeting the learning objectives for that particular day,” she added.
The policy does say “Regardless of any official action taken, or not taken, by the university, reasonable judgment should be considered regarding your own safety.” This means that students and staff should look at their unique situation before trying to come to campus, something that Koch and Chant both stressed.
“Individual students’ situations may vary depending on where they are coming from for class, say, a residence hall compared to 30 miles from campus, since weather conditions in the U.P. can vary tremendously within a small geographical area. My expectation is that students will use reasonable judgment in consideration of their own circumstances when making decisions about attending class during inclement weather,” said Koch.