Snowmageddon. Snowicane. Snowpocalypse. Snownado.  All terms I heard used to describe the monster storm that wreaked so much havoc in the midwest yesterday.

Here in Rochester, NY meteorologists predicted 12-20 inches of snow and one (Glen Johnson) called those numbers “conservative.”  But, because the storm tracked to the west more than was anticipated, it allowed warmer air to get ahead of it and the snowfall totals just didn’t climb the way it was thought they would.

However, enough snow and rain fell to create greasy, slippery conditions on the expressways and snow-covered side streets were still difficult to maneuver through, depending on where in the city (or outlying areas) people lived.  As I write this, at the dinner hour on February 2, it is snowing furiously and accumulating rapidly as well.

Government services (but not government offices) were closed.  No WIC for the kids.  Refuse pickup was delayed by a day.  Doctors offices, senior centers, and every Meals On Wheels Program — canceled.  Every school in the county, as well as every school in the outlying areas (and neighboring counties) was closed this morning.  Keuka College, Genesee Community College (all branches) and Fingerlakes Community College were all closed.  Monroe Community College was not closed.

With a student enrollment figure in the Fall of more than 18,000 students Monroe Community College is a beacon to all the outlying areas and counties — a beacon of educational light to those who might not otherwise be able to afford college tuition in four-year institutions.

I can’t attest to how many of those 18,000 students commute during the morning rush hour to attend 8:00 classes.  What I can attest to, however, is how little traffic I encounter during the morning commute when MCC’s classes are not in session.  That’s a whole bunch of students, and a whole bunch of faculty that aren’t making that morning drive.

Monroe Community College’s catalog says this about closing, with my remarks in bold italics:

When classes or activities are cancelled, faculty and students should not come to thecampus.  All other staff and administrators should report as usual.

Translation: Staff is expendable and we don’t mind making them risk life and limb to come in to work when there are no students or faculty to serve.

Rochester area radio and television stations will be notified no later than 5:30 a.m. <snip> For weather-related events, college officials continuously assess current and forecasted weather conditions. Minimally, county fire, National Weather Bureau, Brighton Police Department and New York State Police radio frequencies are monitored, as well as the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA) for bus scheduling and cancellations. Weather storm warnings and travel advisories also are monitored closely. Campus roadways are monitored by Public Safety and Facilities personnel on duty. Recommendations to cancel classes, close the college, or remain open are made by the Director of Public Safety to the President of the college or his/her designee.

Fully two hours prior to the beginning of the rush hour commute the decision is made.  The real assholes who cause dangerous conditions and accidents are on the roads between 7:30 and 8:00 and THAT is when the real road conditions are often “discovered.”  Someone hits a patch of black ice, causing an accident, which causes dangerous conditions to other drivers on the expressway.  A lot can happen in two hours, weather-wise. This is, after all, Western New York where the weather is as changeable as a politician’s loyalties.  Just because the college doesn’t hear anything on the state police scanner, that doesn’t automatically make conditions safe.  It just means there’s hardly any traffic and no idiots out…yet.

Weather conditions in MCC’s large service area can vary widely. Employees and students are encouraged to make a personal decision on whether to travel the roadways during inclement weather. Students who
miss class as a result of inclement weather are encouraged to communicate with their professors regarding missed class work.

I sincerely view this as a disclaimer meant only to cover liability bases.  The reality is vastly different.  I know staff members who all scoff and say “Yeah, and if I call and tell my boss I think it’s too dangerous, I get written up.”  I have put two kids through school at MCC and both have had classes on days like today, where there are next to no students in class.  One instructor who had an exam scheduled on a snow day went ahead and administered the exam and gave the students who made that personal decision a zero with no chance to make up the exam.  Other faculty members give bonus points to the students who do show up — which I believe encourages those students to NOT make a responsible decision with regard to their safety if grades are of concern to them.  The sensible ones cancel classes or tell their students ahead of time that they will not be penalized for making a decision about their personal safety.  Will some students take advantage? You bet — probably more than not, but in the end, it’s their decision.

I tell my own staff that they are better judges of their own capabilities and limitations when it comes to driving in bad weather.  They also are better judges of their vehicles and what the vehicles are capable of.  They know the hazards of every day travel and what makes those hazards more intense.  I don’t know that and don’t profess to know enough about any  fit in order to make an informed decision regarding their individual safety.

If MCC is going to remain open during situations like we had today, the administration absolutely MUST adopt a policy (and enforce it) that requires faculty to cancel exams or other grading opportunities on days when some people cannot make the commute due to weather.  A canceled exam for today can easily be rescheduled for another day.  The policy must also be communicated college-wide that any employee of the college who makes the decision to not travel during the bad weather shall not be penalized or disciplined in any way by their superiors.  Sure, they will have to be charged a day from their leave bank but better to give up a sick/personal/vacation day than risk injury or worse in hazardous conditions.

Additionall, and I know MCC is going to find this hard to believe, but not everyone has internet connection at home or on their cell phones.  Some people still don’t have cell phones.  There has to be a better way to communicate class cancellations than to simply tell students to check the college’s web site.  That’s sort of useless information in the wake of an ice storm or other weather phenomenon that causes widespread power outages.  I have suggested on numerous occasions that the college require faculty who cancel classes to put an announcement on their voice mail to alert students to the cancellation.  If students call that number and there isn’t an announcement of a class cancellation, and they travel through hazardous conditions to attend a class that is canceled, they should have a means by which to inform the college that it needs to work on communication.

Another problem with the fact that MCC never closes is that the Public Safety director and/or the President don’t seem to take all things into account.  For example, what is the average age of a college freshman and/or sophomore?  18-20 in all likelihood.  18 year olds have only been driving a year and a half, tops.  Their experience doesn’t make them qualified in any way to make a decision on the safety of the roads, nor does it make them safe on the slick, greasy roads due to their inexperience.  Even assuming they are good, safe drivers, they are still going to encounter drivers that are NOT safe — texting or talking on the phone, driving aggressively, etc.  Their lack of experience increases their risk of serious injury or death if they are involved with an unsafe driver.  MCC puts these kids at risk every time they ignore the weather and road conditions.  What the director of Public Safety and the President need to ask themselves is this one simple question:  Would I want my OWN son or daughter out driving in this during the rush hour commute?

I have worked at MCC for seventeen years and not once have I seen the college close in those seventeen years.  Only once have I seen an early dismissal, and that was back in the mid-90s.  I think that says a lot, doesn’t it?

Here are some comments from MCC’s facebook page today regarding the college not closing:

My son was pacing the floor about going. His dad and I decided he wasn’t traveling the expressway today. His class doesn’t show cancelled. I work for Greece Schools and we’re closed. He’s staying home and safe. New driver… we’re being cautious.

My parents have me on lockdown and I am thankful.

Sorry not going today either. My life is just a wee bit more important than missing ASL.

Seriously? Every school within a 50+ mile radius is closed, roads are slick and even if not bad others don’t know how to drive.

Looking at the class cancelation page it looks like some of the faculty have more sense than the administration.

I think it’s pretty ridiculous that I have to put myself in harms way for my HOUR DRIVE to MCC just because I don’t want to fall behind in my Spanish class…

How are you gonna tell us that we can make our own decision to come or not? Yea so if we decide not to then we get a big fat ABSENT for that day. Its all up to the professors really and some just love teaching so much that they would risk their life to get there. Some may even live right around the block from the school. All in all, its not fair!