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OSU officials’ decisions pile up before snow day announced

Joe Podelco / Photo editor

While some students pray for heavy snowfall and anticipate e-mails announcing a weekday without classes, Ohio State administrators work frantically to assess the snowfall’s effects.

Detailing the fallout of snow and ice in the campus area takes dozens of OSU administrators from offices across the university. Academic Affairs, Transportation and Parking, University Police, Student Life and Facilities Operations and Development, among others, contribute to the decision to cancel class.

“It is important that we keep open communication with students and staff,” said Bob Armstrong, director of OSU Emergency Management and Fire Prevention.

Faculty and staff from departments across campus suggest a course of action to a senior administrative team consisting of deans and provosts. From there, the administrative team gathers its thoughts and reports to President E. Gordon Gee, who makes the final decision, Armstrong said.

“We have been lucky enough to not have that conversation so far this year,” Armstrong said. “We had it four or five times last year.”

The most recent snow-related class cancellations on the Columbus campus have been on Feb. 16, 2010, and Jan. 28, 2009.

“Very infrequently we have to call a snow day because it’s very, very difficult for us to shut down an institution and generally we take care of things,” Gee told The Lantern editorial board Jan. 12.

Each OSU department that plays a role in making a cancellation decision has responsibilities to consider when contemplating its recommendation.

Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president for Student Life, aims to protect student health and safety.

“(Adams-Gaston) will consult with doctors at the Student Health Center about whether the weather presents dangers of frostbite or hypothermia,” said Ruth Gerstner, OSU Office of Student Life spokeswoman. “Adams-Gaston will also talk with Transportation and Parking and Public Safety about driving conditions.”

While looking at the temperature or assessing snow accumulation might offer hints to the fate of classes, students should not rely on any specific numbers.

“There is no absolute temperature, snowfall amount or other specific hazard that triggers the cancellation of classes,” said Amy Murray, OSU spokeswoman.

Variables that Murray said played a role in the decision include whether roads, parking lots and sidewalks are safe and clear, buildings can be kept warm and if the weather forecast predicts dangerous weather.

“I’m more concerned about the ice than the snow,” said Albert Kos, a third-year in architecture. “OSU should limit school when there’s ice because people are always slipping on the paths.”

According to OSU policy, students’ absence from class because of a level 3 snow emergency will be excused as long as they notify their professor. During a level 3 snow emergency, all roadways are closed to non-emergency personnel and those found on the road might subject themselves to arrest, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation website.

Armstrong said students and faculty interested in keeping updated with snow-related news should call 614-247-7777. The automated line, which announces emergency cancellations, is updated before any other outlet.

OSU officials make all possible efforts to notify students by 7:30 a.m. for morning classes and 3 p.m. for evening classes.

Even though students do not attend class during a snow day, some faculty and staff still have to come to campus.

“Most Student Life employees are (listed as) ‘essential’ for weather emergencies,” Gerstner said. “That way we can provide those students who must remain on campus with housing, meals, health care, places to go and things to do.”

Although snow days happen, students looking for a day off the next time it snows should be careful about getting their hopes up.

“The university takes very seriously its obligation to provide the full measure of instruction to tuition-paying students,” Murray said. “For that reason, we try to remain open.”

Gee agreed with Murray and Gerstner. Although Columbus is in the snow belt, he said, snow days are extremely difficult and rare.

“First of all, we say, well, only essential personnel want to come in. I never want to be a nonessential person at a university,” Gee said. “We have animals, we have patients, we have so many different kinds of things that, you know, we’re not a school district. We have a very complex institution so shutting an institution down is very, very difficult for us.”

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