Waking up early on a school day, the morning after a storm, only to find the driveway piled high with snow and school canceled is a fond grade-school memory for most Canadian students. However, once in university snow days are few and far between, regardless of weather, often leading to safety concerns among students.
At UNB, Facilities Management, in collaboration with the Vice-President Administration and Finance and the Vice-President Academic, decide whether to delay or cancel school when the weather is deemed dangerous.
Although the storm closure procedures at UNB are updated almost yearly, the criteria has not seen significant change in the last five years.
When the university decides not to close campus, both students who drive to school or walk are put at an increased risk.
Of the students with parking passes, over one-third are Frederictonians, suggesting they rely on a vehicle to get to school. Students driving to campus frequently face dangerous visibility and road conditions as a result of snowstorms.
“I have an eight-thirty class every day, so I need to come to school early. Many times I’ve driven to school and the roads on campus have barely been plowed. The parking lots are also often not plowed, which creates a lot of issues for parking,” said Kayla Martin, a third-year student at UNB.
In addition, students who live near campus are forced to walk on slippery and often unplowed sidewalks to get to school.
Sarah Dawn, an upper-year student, walks to school every day.
“There have been many times where I or someone else has fallen on the sidewalks at school. The sidewalks are poorly managed and are often extremely slippery and not salted or sanded,” said Dawn.
Upset students say the decision to keep campus open endangers commuters, as well as those who are disadvantaged by the late notice of class cancellations, after many students have already arrived on campus.
Dawn believes that the policy should be revised to incorporate extreme temperatures as a qualification for closing the university.
“Even if it isn’t snowing too bad, there are some days where temperatures reach -30 degrees, so I am forced to walk to school in the freezing cold,” she said.
The university did not comment on whether extreme temperatures should be a criteria for closing campus.
Critics say it is especially important to make the announcement earlier because students must either drive to school or walk on unplowed or icy sidewalks.
The university has taken the position of putting the decision of whether to venture on campus in the face of bad weather in the hands of the individual student.
“If someone does not feel it’s safe to travel, they need to make the decision not to travel, based on their individual situation,” said Gilks.
This leaves many students feeling that the university does not put the safety of their students first, forcing them to choose between missing class and risking penalty, or endangering themselves.
“I think it’s completely unfair that there even has to be a trade-off between my safety versus my academics,” said Martin.
There has been an ongoing discussion among the student body for more reasonable cancellation procedures.
“Me and a few of my friends talked about making a petition for more fair school cancelling policies, but honestly I don’t think it would convince the faculty that we as students have to sometimes choose between academics and safety,” said Dawn.