Inclement weather policy update

What if another Snowpocalypse hits?

Severe weather events last year prompted WSU administration to clarify its weather policies. Photo courtesy of Zeke Estes.

It is no secret that Vancouver is not equipped to easily handle inclement weather.

Last winter, the VanCougar reported on the unexpected snowfall during Welcome Week of Spring semester. Classes were canceled for almost a week out of concerns for safety.

Classes resumed Friday, but many students, faculty and staff could not make it to campus as the snow turned to ice. Auz Burger, our reporter, reported last January that “roads became impossible or too dangerous to navigate” and some students requested that the university provide earlier warnings of delays and closures.

Since then, some students have been wondering if WSU Vancouver will revisit its weather policy in order to address safety concerns this winter.

Last month WSU Vancouver chancellor Mel Netzhammer sent out a campus wide email,  informing the student body of updates to weather policy.

Netzhammer reported that the Council of Faculty Representatives, in consultation with other campus bodies has adopted an inclement weather statement to “provide guidance to faculty and students about cancellations and closing due to weather.” He writes, “The policy asks them [faculty]  to connect with students in their classes as quickly as possible after a decision has been made whether to open or close, so that students don’t arrive on campus only to discover their class has been canceled. It asks them to consider alternative methods for delivery of course material on these days. Finally, it asks them not to penalize students who, in their best judgment, determine that conditions are not safe enough for them to drive to campus.”

Detaied guidelines on the new policy are available on the “Emergency Closure” page of the university’s website.

Netzhammer stated that while instructors may cancel their own classes, the campus itself will often still remain open. “We have a finite number of classes and expectations for instructional delivery,” he wrote, “as well as a commitment to proper use of state resources, that should push us to remain open whenever possible.”

According to the university website, “Washington State University, historically, does not close except under the most adverse conditions.”

It is up to the Chancellor to determine whether the circumstances poze a safety hazard. If no notification is given, students are to assume that campus is open as normal. 

Trent Ellis, a current freshman at WSU Vancouver, said Netzhammer’s email does not clarify exactly how severe the weather has to be to trigger a campus closure.

“Will students have to go to class if there are 4 inches of snow on the ground?,” Ellis said. He added the the email had no reference to the potential icy conditions on campus entrance roads.

However, the Vice Chancellor of Finance and Operations, Lynn Valenter, said the update provided clarity and expectation guidelines.

Valenter said many faculty already exercised their discretion during weather events before the policy clarification.  “In some ways it formalized a practice that a high proportion of our faculty were already conforming to,” she said.

She said she hopes instructors will provide options that will not require their students to come to campus.

When deciding on campus closure, according to Valenter, the university takes a variety of factors into account. “We are not bound by one thing, it is more the totality of the circumstances,” she said.

Campus closures are displayed on the main page of the WSU Vancouver website. Students can also sign up to receive notifications about closures by visiting http://bit.ly/Wsuvsafetyplan

To see which buses are on snow routes, and if the bus is coming to campus, visit C-Tran’s website at https://www.c-tran.com or call 360-695-0123.

For any additional questions about inclement weather, contact WSU Vancouver Department of Public Safety Services by phone at 360-546-9001, or in person at the Public Safety office located in Room 120 of the Classroom Building (VCLS 120).

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