It’s rare that Fox News and Barack Obama come to agreement, but the two have found some common ground in dubbing the latest blizzard “Snowmageddon.” In response to the massive winter storm that has paralyzed the District of Columbia and rivaled the 1922 single-snowfall record for the District, the university instituted special operating statuses for today, yesterday and last Friday. The decision to close the university today – though made and broadcasted in an efficient manner – became somewhat ambiguous after a follow-up email from University Provost James O’Donnell. Friday’s liberal leave policy, however, left something to be desired.
The university sent a mass e-mail alerting the campus community of the liberal leave status around noon on Friday. A liberal leave status indicates that – although the university remains open – students and professors are advised to exercise their discretion in deciding whether or not to go to, or hold, classes. The problem on Friday was that the policy went into effect only one hour after the notice, at 1 p.m. The quick turnaround left many students unsure of whether to attend class and meant that many who came from off campus may have unnecessarily braved the worsening storm.
Friday’s snowfall was predicted to be heavy several days in advance. While the university should not be expected to announce liberal leave as early as it announces cancellations, it ought to give more than one hour of warning – especially when inclement weather is anticipated as early as it was last week. Doing so will save professors and faculty who live far from campus a needless – and probably frustrating – trek home in the snow. Even if the university prefers to avoid officially instituting liberal leave earlier in the process, it could advise students and professors that it is considering a special operating status. Earlier warnings might make professors who are worried about their commute more comfortable with cancelling their individual classes preemptively.
In contrast, the notification of Monday’s class cancellation, sent out Sunday afternoon was prompt and timely. That notification allowed students to plan ahead and is exactly the right response to the storm. What is not the appropriate response, however, was the contradictory combination of a university broadcast cancelling classes dispatched at 8:04 pm on Monday evening and a somewhat convoluted e-mail from O’Donnell stating that classes were actually still planned, subject to the professor’s discretion. Students were undoubtedly befuddled, and those with early morning courses were likely shackled to their inboxes awaiting an e-mail from their professors. Indeed, professors had a limited reaction time given the late hour that the Provost’s email was sent out.
The university has an effective e-mail and text-message system for large-scale communications, and it ought to use it to announce special operating statuses in a manner that is timely and that prevents student and faculty confusion. Blizzard-like conditions are traumatic enough for a city used to less than 20 inches of snow per year; streamlining the liberal leave policy and clarifying cancellation announcements would make snow-saturated life a little easier for the Georgetown community.
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