On days two and three of dangerous snowfall, campus closes

Jonny Moran, Executive Editor

Updated Nov. 19, 2014 8:45 p.m.: Classes and events at SUNY Buffalo State on Wednesday and Thursday have been canceled as a taxing snowstorm hit Western New York for the three days straight, resulting so far in at least seven deaths across the region. Students and faculty were notified by email Wednesday morning that classes were cancelled. They were notified again at night that campus would be closed for an additional day.

But hazardous weather conditions didn’t keep school officials from closing campus on Tuesday, when heavy snowfall first pummeled the area. Despite 112 miles of Thruway being shut down across Western New York due to heavy snowfall and state of emergencies being declared in Lancaster, Orchard Park, South Buffalo and West Seneca, classes resumed as usual Tuesday morning at Buffalo State.

Michael LeVine, Buffalo State’s vice president for finance and management, made the final call on the decision to stay open. He says Buffalo State’s policy has always been to keep the school open if the campus is safe to navigate.

“My responsibility is to make sure the dorm students get fed [and] the rooms get cleaned,” LeVine said. “If I close campus and all the food [service] people stay home, I’ve got a problem.”

He said that historically, the school has only closed when it was deemed unsafe to be on campus, and a request given to the governor’s office retroactively.

“We have to be operating,” LeVine said. “Nobody on this campus can close this campus officially. Only the governor can.”

LeVine noted that nearby campuses at SUNY University at Buffalo and Canisius also remained open for the day.

A message posted at 7:25 a.m. on Tuesday by the school’s Facebook and Twitter accounts said that the school would remain open but advised off-campus students to follow their own judgment in deciding whether or not to travel.

The decision was met with tremendous response from students and alumni alike, almost unanimously critical of the decision to keep the school’s doors open when more than 75 percent of Buffalo State students commute to class.

Many people who responded to Buffalo State’s Facebook post regarding the decision to stay open worried for the safety of students.

“Guys people are going to get hurt like what are you doing people are stranded on the thruway,” wrote one Facebook user on the post. “What reasons for closure do you need?”

“Seriously? Do you have no concern for anyone?” Wrote another.

Early childhood education major Maria Pimpentel was not happy with the school’s decision.

“I have to rely on public transportation to get to school,” she wrote on the school’s Facebook post. “There is no way I am waiting for a bus in these conditions!”

Several students who responded to the Facebook post were worried that they would be penalized for missing class. LeVine said students won’t have to worry about that.

“The faculty has to be flexible in a situation like this,” LeVine said, adding that measures can be taken by students if they feel they were wrongly penalized due to the circumstances. “[They can] talk to the dean of students. … In a case like this, it’s pretty easy to document that [they were] in a banned area [and] couldn’t make it in.”

By and far, faculty seemed to accommodate students, with many sending emails notifying their students that classes were canceled.

Tamara McMillan, Buffalo State’s associate director of Student Life for Leadership, canceled her afternoon foundations of leadership class on Tuesday.

“Our campus is predominantly a commuter campus and I didn’t feel as though [students] should be penalized for circumstances out of their control,” she said, citing the driving bans and Thruway closures. “There were professors who cancelled classes due to the very same reason. Hence, I didn’t think it would have been fair to have commuters drive or travel in for one class if their other classes were cancelled.”

Assistant communications professor Ruth Goldman, who sees students commute to her classes from as far as Rochester, said that student safety was paramount to holding her regularly scheduled classes.

Goldman, who manages Facebook pages for both of her Tuesday classes, polled students online Tuesday morning to determine whether they would be able to make it to her classes safely before choosing to cancel them.

“I did not want to require anyone to travel to Buffalo State and potentially not be able to return home because of road closings or a change in the [lake effect snow] band pattern,” Goldman said.

She was also able to keep academic advisement appointments she had previously scheduled with students by counseling them over the phone or by email.

Other faculty members held classes, but didn’t count absences against students.

Associate political science professor Kyeonghi Baek taught her Tuesday morning political analysis class as planned, but she didn’t take the usual roll call, noting that many students would be unable to make it to class.

Criminal justice lecturer Martin Littlefield had an exam scheduled for Tuesday. He decided to keep his class running on schedule, but attendance was not mandatory.

“Because of the severe weather, day students who are in the heavy snow areas should not try to come in,” Littlefield told students in an email.
“Your safety is paramount.”

Littlefield offered students who couldn’t attend class a chance to make up the exam on a later date.

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