Making the call to close campus

Administrators cite cold, precipitation in decision to close campus after email saying temperature alone is insufficient


Photo by John Renfro

Last Wednesday, IU Southeast was one of the last universities in the area to announce classes were canceled. IUS students received the official notification at 5:43 a.m., just hours before the first classes would’ve started.

That decision was confusing to many students, who received an email on Tuesday afternoon suggesting that the campus would not close due to cold weather alone and who watched in anticipation as other campuses in the region decided Tuesday night to close campuses the following day.

The decision to close campus is a difficult one, IUS administrators say, which is based primarily on campus and road conditions. On Wednesday, campus leaders said it was not the temperature alone that caused the closure but the addition of precipitation that tipped the balance.

“The wind chill for our region was within an acceptable level for a campus opening if that was the only weather we were dealing with,” said Dana Wavle, vice chancellor administration and finance. “The snow and accompanying precipitation made for dangerous conditions.”

How do they decide to close campus?

Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Uric Dufrene plays an important role in deciding whether or not IU Southeast will close for weather-related issues. He said the reason IU Southeast often waits so long to make the call is because weather conditions can often change considerably in a 24 hour period. Because of this, the administration typically waits until the day of to make their determination.

Dufrene said that the process starts with a 5 a.m. call from the IUS chief of police, who provides an overview of campus and road conditions. Dufrene then calls the chancellor to discuss the assessment and make a recommendation.

“We will discuss, ask questions of each other, and make a decision,” he said. “Occasionally, we may also consult with other members of the cabinet. I then call the chief of police with the decision, and University Police sends out the IU Notify message. I also notify broadcast media in the region.”

Dufrene also said specifically Wednesday, the “abnormally low wind chill and precipitation that fell on road surfaces created a potentially hazardous situation.”

What caused the change to cancel classes?

The email Stonecipher sent to students said the campus doesn’t just close for cold temperatures. This led to students pointing out on social media and the petition how harmful cold temperatures can be.

Wavle, however said that temperature alone rarely results in closure.

“We do not close due to ‘cold’ temperatures,” he said. “When temperatures become frigid (chance of frostbite during 30-minutes of exposure), we will consider delay or closure for that reason alone.”

Wavle said the decisions to close are most often made the day of the weather event, in large part because conditions can change, saying that, “There have been a number of weather events in the last couple of years that were over-predicted.”

“Using this week’s weather as an example, all of the weather reports were highlighting cold temperatures with very little, if any, mention of snow,” he said. “The cold temperature alone was not a strong enough factor to make an early call.  In fact, the wind chill for our region was within an acceptable level for a campus opening.  The surprise was the arrival of late day snow Tuesday evening.”

Do any other factors cause campus to close?

It’s unclear. On Wednesday, there were two other factors that may have influenced the decision.

For example, someone on Wednesday started a petition on asking that “IUS cancel school on Wednesday, January 30th.” More than 1,500 people signed the petition, and many included reasons for signing:

  • “I go to IU Bloomington, but I’m signing for the squad”
  • “Don’t want pneumonia..”
  • “How is U of L closed, but we aren’t..”
  • “Please care for your students IUS :(“
  • “It’s entirely too cold for students to be walking to class from their cars. Even from class to class. I don’t understand why IUS is the only school that is not closed.”

“We were aware students had initiated a petition,” Wavle said “As a college campus, we love when students exercise their right to express an opinion or view.”

He did not respond by deadline to a question about whether the petition played any factor in the decision on Wednesday to close campus.

Students on social media as well as on the petition cited the University of Louisville and other colleges being closed as evidence that IU Southeast should also be closed.

IU Southeast waited about 12 hours after its main campus, IU Bloomington, announced their classes were canceled, and several hours after surrounding universities had announced their classes were canceled. All other IU campuses around the state had already announced closures by that point.

The University of Louisville’s official Twitter announced all Wednesday classes were canceled Tuesday night at 7:22 p.m. The University of Kentucky’s Twitter account posted their classes were canceled at 6:47 p.m. on Tuesday, and IU Bloomington tweeted out their classes were canceled at 5:06 p.m. the same night.

Wavle said the administration considers other campuses decisions, but said IU Southeast differs in significant ways to other, larger campuses.

“We do look closely at neighboring institutions, in particular U of L, which by the way has similar cold weather policies,” he said “In the case of cold weather, however, U of L students have to navigate a much larger campus – close to 300 acres compared to our 50 acres in the center region of campus.”