Snow creates confusion for students and administration

Molly Grace

All over campus, students went to bed on the night of Feb. 13 in eager anticipation of the first snow day of the year.

They woke up, saw white outside their windows and checked to see if the University had given them Valentine’s Day gift.

After realizing that 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. classes were cancelled, some students crawled back into bed, grateful for the few extra hours of sleep. Others hoped the University would follow the decision of many local colleges and close for the day. When the University remained open for 10:30 classes, many students ventured outside to face snow-covered sidewalks and still-falling snow. Unplowed side streets, snow-encased cars and slippery roads blocked the commute for many upperclassmen and University employees.

The University’s snow policy states that the decision to cancel classes or close the University is a complex process that considers many different factors, including the storm’s character (onset time, intensity and duration), the condition of the roadways and the condition of campus roads and walkways.

According to Dr. John Johannes, vice president for Academic Affairs, the conversation usually begins at or before 5 a.m., when Johannes and Bob Morro, director of Facilities Management, discuss the aforementioned factors. After other administrators, including Vice President for Administration Ken Valosky and Associate Dean of the Law School Bill James, are consulted, a decision is made by 6 a.m. and is announced by 6:30 a.m. on the University’s homepage and phone system. Radio station KYW is also notified immediately.

Johannes explained that at 5:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the best weather information indicated that precipitation was ceasing and would stop between 10 a.m. and noon. Light snow flurries would linger with no accumulation into the early afternoon, and temperatures were to reach 35 or 36 degrees by the middle of the day. In light of these factors, it was believed that Villanova’s ground crew could make campus reasonably accessible by 10 or 11 a.m.

“In our judgment at the time, the weather did not constitute the sort of ’emergency’ or threat to safety that would warrant canceling classes,” Johannes said. “Rather, a couple extra hours seemed like a reasonable strategy.”

Johannes also commented that reports indicated that public transportation was running and that roads were slow-going but drivable and would improve over the course of the day.

“Unknown to us at the time, however, was the great extent to which road conditions varied throughout our commuting region,” Johannes said. “Had we known, it would have affected our decision.”

While Route 320 and many side streets south of the University were reported to be safely passable by 9 a.m., conditions were worse in areas north and west of Villanova.

On campus, the high winds and continued precipitation made the task of clearing the campus and parking lots more daunting than originally anticipated. Although Johannes and the other decision-makers believed that facilities could adequately clear the parking lots, the wind blew snow over already-cleared areas, causing facilities crews to repeat work before they could move on to other locations.

In response to updated weather and driving information, the University cancelled afternoon classes at the end of the 12:30 p.m. class period and closed at 1:30 p.m. Although Dr. Johannes sent the class cancellation e-mail at 12:44 p.m. and Morro sent the closing message at 1:07 p.m., technical difficulties delayed their deliveries in many instances, causing further confusion around campus. Whereas class cancellation primarily affects faculty and students, University closing affects everyone. Only essential employees, such as those employed by Public Safety, Dining Services, the Health Center and facilities, remain on campus. For example, Dining Services consolidated its staff by closing most retail operations at 2:30 p.m. so that the three dining halls could remain on their normal schedule, Timothy Dietzler of Dining Services Administration said. The Belle Aire Terrace, convenience stores and Connelly Center’s Holy Grounds stayed open until 5, 9 and 11 p.m. respectfully.

“Our focus … is on serving our students while working with our staff to ensure they get home to their families,” Dietzler said. Johannes echoed this focus.

“Our number one concern, always, is the safety of our students, faculty and staff,” he said. “The challenge is to reach a responsible decision while balancing many considerations.”

“All of us involved truly regret the difficulties that so many Villanova students, staff and faculty experienced,” Johannes said. “It goes without saying that, had we known early in the morning what we knew by late morning, we would not have opened at all.”

On Thursday morning, many students were surprised to find out that their 8:30 a.m. classes were also cancelled.

Johannes said that when the grounds crew reported for work early Thursday morning, Morro determined that a few additional hours would be needed to adequately clear the campus roads and walkways to ensure their safety for students.