This past week, winter arrived in Halifax in a big way. After the over 70cm come down in our city and the evidence of that is everywhere including sidewalks and parking lots. Let me take you through that week. Monday, the school was closed and rightfully so because I’m pretty sure not even the Abominable Snowman was out. Monday night, at 7:30 SMU closed the school pre-emptively for Tuesday and students rejoiced. Wednesday, everything was back to normal but then another, smaller storm hit that night and this is where shit hit the fan. SMU has always assessed weather conditions at 5:30AM to make a decision as to whether to stay open, close or delay. The people who make this decision, contrary to popular belief, it a team of people known as the “Weather Watch Team” made up of Gabe Morrison (VP Finance), Tom Traps (Facilities Management), Paul Dixon (Registrar), Kevin Trudeau (Security), Tom Brophy (Student Services), and Cale Loney (External Affairs). The decision was made on Thursday, February 16, at 5:30AM that the school would open for the day and SMUdents were not happy. The reason? By the time 7AM rolled around, just when students and staff are normally leaving home for their commute, the snow was much more than just a little storm. White out conditions were reported, the HRSB closed for the day along with NSCC, DAL delayed opening, and students immediately started reaching out to professors and commenting on SMU’s social media accounts.
The Journal reached out to a few students who were inconvenienced, to say the least, by this decision.
Cassandra Leveque – Schelleman, a student who lives in Prospect, had heard about the impending weather and emailed her professor the night before asking what would happen if the conditions were bad as her 8:30 class had a midterm the next morning. She did not receive an answer. The following morning, she reached out to the professor again stating that she lived far away, that the driving conditions were bad, and asked if he was going to reschedule, and again, no response. She said this was not necessarily a surprise as “it wouldn’t be the first time I travelled into town and he cancel an 830 class at 8am after I have already arrived at school.” Cassandra then spent the next little bit digging out her car, which got stuck in her driveway, and battling off her boyfriend who was insisting she stay home, but the midterm was worth 20% so she headed out. On her way to SMU, which is normally a 30-minute drive for her, it took an hour and in the process she was almost T-Boned at an intersection due to poor visibility. Thankfully, Cassandra made it to class safely, wrote her midterm and when she handed it in, the professor said “I got your email, thanks for making the effort to come.” This is not right. Cassandra suggested that SMU partner with Dal, NSCC and other universities/colleges in HRM to make these decisions. “I was [not] expecting a snow day but even a delayed opening long enough to shovel driveways and give the plows a chance to get on the roads. You’d think if a university down the street delayed opening that the other would also because the exact same weather conditions” said Cassandra “students come from everywhere so you can’t just cater to the ones that live on residence or in a close proximity.”
Another student, Naomi Kent had this to say: “I woke up at 6am and shovelled out my car. My road had not been plowed out yet but I had to go to school because I had a midterm so I went anyway. I have all wheel drive on my car so usually I can get through most weather situations but I almost lost control of my car 4 times over the course of a 40 minute drive that usually takes about 15. Once I got to the bridge terminal, I got on the bus which took another 40 minutes to get to SMU. The roads were horrible and I did not feel safe driving on them at all.”
These are just two stories of students who had a bad experience that day. If you read the over 150 comments on the Facebook announcement saying the school was open, you will see many more.
Once people arrived at the school there were exits blocked by snow, stairways not shovelled, parking lots not properly plowed, sidewalks were treterous, and the atmosphere on campus was anger, because no one wanted to be there.
SMUSA President, Kazi Rahman had the following to say:
“SMUSA has been communicating with the University Administration to voice student concerns and we hope a decision will be made soon in the best interest of our students.
I see some students got their exams postponed but for others I know it is very frustrating. Try to talk to the professors and request them to postpone the midterm (which I know is difficult).
SMUSA does not sit is the Committee that makes the decision on university closures. You can Email your concerns at email@example.com so that we can forward them to the university administration.
As your President, I sincerely feel sorry and frustrated for SMU students who are going through such difficult time. I live a block away and still it was still difficult.
We are listening and working hard for you.”
With the following statement coming a few hours after his first post:
Myself and our amazing VP Student Affairs Ossama Nasrallah had a quick meeting with our University VP Academic and Research Dr. Ester Enns, VP Finance and Administration Ms. Gabe Morrison and VP Advancement Ms. Erin Greenwood on the issues students faced this morning with poor weather conditions and missed midterms.
They are concerned about your distress as much as you are. They are working hard on to accommodate students who missed their exams this morning due to poor weather conditions and are not penalized. They will be publicly communicating with you soon.
Please send a thank you email to them. If we can provide negative feedback, we also have the responsibility to send positive feedback as well.
If your exam does not get accommodated. Please sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can forward it to them.
The weather is getting better, so please try to make it to your evening midterms if you can.
We all have a shared responsibility towards our beautiful Saint Mary’s University.
Thank you. Much Love”
The SMU administration was much more quiet on the subject. Only releasing the following statement late in the day:
This message was then passed along, generacly to all SMUdents who had taken the time to email the administration.
The Journal reached out to Margart Murphy, Associate VP of Exteral Affairs to get some more answers.
“Its always a balance when decideing to reamain open or closing, the university tends to reamin open as most private instiutions tend to remain open” said Murphy “we believe it is better to maintain services than withdraw them.”
“One of the factors that is taken into consideration is facilities ability to clear snow.” She also said that there is no formal procedure or obligation for professors to accomidate students but External Affairs did reach out to faculty asking to be considerate of the situation. Additionally, Murphy emphasized that many students live on/close to campus.
As much as these factors are important to consider when making such a decision, there are only 1000 students who live on campus and students who lived close to SMU couldn’t get there because of the deplorible sidewalk conditions. Additionally, the parking lots were not properly cleared.
In summary, this tells students a few things. One, our SMUSA president can really step up when an issue of this magnitude arises, so cheers to Kazi for stepping up. Two, SMU effed up big time. This leads us to the question, “Is SMU’s current weather policy really what’s best for students right now, or should it be revised?” Three, some professors have their heads on straight and some don’t. Many students told the Journal that their professors were understanding of the situation and some even cancelled their classes in the interest of safety but some said things like “the school is open, if you don’t show up to your midterm than you get a 0.” And finally, yes, you can absolutely sue SMU if you are coming to school and get hit by a car. Heck, sue the city too.