September 25, 2016

Snow Day? Snow Way

The roads were virtually impassible, and highways appeared untouched to Corey Kretzmer, a commuter who traveled on Interstate 44 and Watson Road on Monday morning.

Despite these conditions on roads used by some commuter students, Webster University proceeded with business as usual on Monday morning. The school’s response to the storm has some commuter students upset, believing they were forced into harm’s way in order to attend class.

Shortly before noon on Feb. 16, students at Webster were alerted via email and text that the campus would be canceling classes after 3 p.m. The decision was made by a group of staff members from the offices of Public Safety, Academic Affairs, Student Life, the Provost Office and the Office of the President.

Brandon Dennis was sitting in his Ethics in the Media class Monday at 2 p.m. when two Public Safety officers came to inform him his car had been hit in the parking lot.

“I was parked in Lot H by Sverdrup, and the spots were still completely covered in snow. The only area that was clear was where students drive through the lot,” Dennis said. “The car next to me tried to back out of a spot and slid into my car, but fortunately the damage was minor.”

Dennis said the driver of the other car was being held responsible for the incident.

Many campuses around St. Louis, including the University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL), Fontbonne University  and Maryville University, pre-emptively cancelled classes on Sunday night in preparation for the storm. The decision was ultimately made when forecasts began reporting the possibility of another storm hitting on Monday afternoon.

Feb. 16 was Freshman Preview Day, an important day for the school to attract potential students for the fall, but Patrick Giblin, head of public relations at Webster, said it was not a factor considered in keeping the school open.

“We began holding discussions last Friday about canceling the Freshman Preview Day before the storm hit. We had a contingency plan in place to notify all the families that were traveling to Webster,” Giblin said.

Giblin said the real issue was the weather conflicting with weather reports. He said they were expecting it to snow at 9 a.m. on Sunday, but precipitation did not start until 9 p.m.

Webster’s official policy regarding inclement weather is to make a decision no later than 4 a.m. on the day of cancellation. Giblin said the primary tool used to determine school closure is the National Weather Service.

“Unfortunately weather prediction is not an exact science. I was checking weather reports all morning, and until 9 a.m. there were only intermittent reports of incidents on the road,” Giblin said. “We take student safety very seriously, and when we realized the conditions were so bad, we began to revisit the issue.”

Webster’s President of Commuter Council Caroline Wiley said that as of Tuesday afternoon no formal complaints have been registered with the council.

“We can certainly use this recent snow storm as an opportunity to find out more about how these decisions are made in the best interest of the students,” Wiley said.

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  • Jim Messmer

    Would it be possible in the future to consider a snow schedule until it could be determined if the roads are actually a threat? I know you are saying you need to make a decision prior to 4:00 am, but that would have been a good way to make sure that the weather wasn’t going to get worse first. Had it stayed as it did, it would have made the call to close easier; or had it gotten better you could have opened later in the day. I heard too many horror stories of folks getting stuck on the side of the road or spinning out. I have a large student staff and I was very concerned about their safety. The roads were very bad Monday. Just something to consider.