On Monday, most students on Muhlenberg’s campus were praying for a snow day. For the staff of the college, a snow day is much more complicated than this. A snow day disrupts the entire campus for more than just the one day. According to Chief Brian Fidati of Muhlenberg’s Campus Safety Department, a snow day causes more of an ordeal than we may realize.
Fidati explained how the decision to cancel school is a team effort involving many college departments beyond Campus Safety, including Plant Operations, the President’s office and the Provost. The faculty are also given the chance to weigh in. He stated, “We all look at it from our own perspective.” One of the factors that is included in the decision is whether Plant Ops will be able to clear parking lots and walkways. Jim Bolton, Director of Plant Operations, decides where the machinery needs to go and what will be cleared first. They may need to delay/ cancel classes or divert people to park in different areas in order to be able to clear lots. This year, the college had made a deal with Cedar Beach Park. In exchange for letting the college’s faculty and students park in their lot, Plant Ops would clear the parking areas for them.
“It all depends on when the snow hits,” said Fidati. They have to look forward to the next few days to predict whether or not they will have the people and machinery to clear the necessary areas. “From campus safety, our perspective is safety.” If they are to make the decision to hold all classes that day, they have to make sure it is safe to access every area of the campus, from the dining hall to the back stairs of the Rehearsal House.
Closing school can also affect the campus for more than just the one day. One science professor contacted Fidati, saying that not only would they have to cancel Tuesday’s lab, but also the labs for their other classes because they couldn’t have one class with the lab and one without. This was something even he hadn’t considered as an issue when it came to closing the campus. However, with the advancement of online learning through Canvas, professors now have the option to hold many classes remotely.
Although Campus Safety, Plant Operations and faculty do get a say in the matter, the ultimate decision to cancel is up to President Williams. Unlike Tuesday, the call often isn’t made until early morning the day of. This is due to many people working overnight in an effort to keep the campus open.
According to Fidati, some personnel on campus are considered essential, such as certain Plant Ops and Campus Safety staff. When a large storm like the recent one hits, it is often necessary for these essential personnel to stay overnight. He explained the general rule is that if you wouldn’t be able to get back here the next day, don’t go home. The College makes arrangements for them to sleep in campus housing, often nothing luxurious, just a simple sleeping bag on the floor.
Muhlenberg, having mostly residential students, does not mirror other colleges when it comes to the decision to close thanks to a low amount of commuter students.
The safety of faculty traveling to campus is taken into consideration, but according to Fidati, “If we can be open, we will be open.”