The Keene State College campus remained open Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, during a snowstorm which produced over a foot of snow. With more than 90 class cancellations posted on the KSC website, keene.edu, and nearly 450 cancellations in New Hampshire according to WMUR, some KSC students were still expected to make class on time.
“You have to walk on the streets a lot because the sidewalks aren’t plowed, and you have to make sure the cars stop before you cross because some of them are sliding. I thought I could cross and I couldn’t because their cars wouldn’t stop,” KSC student Jennifer Ambrosini said, describing her walk to campus Monday morning. Once she arrived she said it was pretty difficult to get around, especially with plow trucks trying to clean up campus while students were walking everywhere. In addition, she said there was at least a handful of students missing from her class.
However, in any weather, campus can expect to see the KSC Grounds crew working on cleaning up campus. Director of Physical Plant and Grounds Bud Winsor said his crew started cleanup at 5 a.m. Even then, he said he got a few calls Monday morning because people were having issues trying to find places to park. The National Weather Association reported that there was 14 inches in Winchester, south of Keene, at 10 a.m. With campus still open, Monday’s cleanup went a lot slower than usual. He said his crew can truly get a lot done when the lots are empty and there aren’t many people on Appian Way.
“There was a lot of snow, but the storm was of a very long duration, so it was very different from last week where we sort of had a lot of snow dumped in a short period of time with high winds. This one was snow of light intensity for a long period of time . . . It’s always miserable to walk around during the snow — you know how it is, but at the same time it wasn’t a huge, blizzard-like storm. So, I guess in that respect, I think we worked around people [on campus] okay,” Winsor said.
Ambrosini wrote a letter to WMUR reflecting how she felt about having to attend class on Monday. She said she wrote “about how it’s kind of ridiculous how our president isn’t looking out for the safety of her students, or her faculty or anything and how a lot of students are walking to school on the street and stuff and it seems unsafe.”
KSC Senior Sean Crater expressed his concern for having to attend class during the storm as well, and said he sent KSC President Anne Huot an email which stated, “With the past two snowstorms, I’ve noticed that there was a sluggish decision made for the safety of the students that don’t live on campus. Over 1/4 of the students that attend Keene State College are commuters. If the roads aren’t clear (which they haven’t been on these two past storms), you’re endangering their lives. I’m asking you to consider the financial loss of paying professors for a snow day vs. a lawsuit from a fatality caused by negligence. I met you the first opportunity I had and you seemed to have the student body’s best interest in mind. Please take consideration to when we have a foot of snow overnight because the Keene [Public Works Department] isn’t large enough to cover the ground they need to. I may be entirely wrong emailing you, maybe you aren’t the one calling the final decision on if there is going to be curtailed operations, but I’d love it if you could direct me to the person endangering my peers and making me trudge through a foot of snow or walk in the road because the sidewalks aren’t clear surrounding campus.”
Another KSC member wrote a letter Monday in response to the college campus not being closed. Journalism professor Marianne Salcetti sent an email to President Huot that stated, “As of a few minutes ago, nearly 600 cancellations were reported on WMUR’s website for today. To not cancel classes today and go to curtailed operations is just not safe for anyone. Yet, staying open divides our community — staff people who have to take vacation days because they cannot travel or their young children have had school cancelled. What are they supposed to do? Travel on unsafe roads with small children and bring them to work? Then what? And some staff people have to risk coming in just to get paid, while others have to use their own vacation time, which is an unfair punishment.”
Her email continued, “We do have commuter students, many roads have not even been plowed yet. What of untenured faculty who may feel pressured to hold class because to cancel may reflect poorly on them in future job evaluations.
Not closing divides this community — by job status, by position etc. This is not a safe policy — no matter how many lawyers might have vetted the use your own judgment response we received this morning. Please consider closing and not punishing people, which is how this looks right now.”
Even though campus was still open and classes were taking place, there was an announcement sent out at 4 p.m. stating, “Due to weather and road conditions the KSC Shuttle will not be running as normally scheduled tonight, Monday 02/09/2015.”
President Huot was contacted for comment but did not respond before The Equinox’s production deadline. However, Tuesday morning Executive Associate Susie Ericson-West sent an email out to colleagues with a message from the president.
Huot’s message read, “Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to contact me over the past two weeks regarding weather-related concerns and, more specifically, the decision to keep the College open and classes in session during those times. Be assured that I have read every message and listened to every voicemail. These decisions are never easy nor are they ever made lightly or without full consideration of the many factors that enter into them. Let’s discuss a few. Our primary responsibility at all times is to provide our students with a high-quality educational experience, characterized by clear expectations, ongoing engagement in their learning, and continuity. It is difficult to fulfill this duty if we close the campus every time it snows, a situation which will continue to happen given our geographic location. Each class held accounts for a proportion of the educational experience and a semester is only 15 short weeks. Unlike local schools we do not build snow days into our calendar. The decision to curtail operations or not is the result of thoughtful input from numerous sources and safety is given serious consideration within the context of our primary responsibility to provide continuity to our core mission.”
It continued, “We go with the best information we have at the time inclusive of road conditions, predicted path and impact of the storm, and our ability to keep pace with the storm on campus. The three most recent storms, including Monday’s storm, have not met the predictions that were available at the time the decision was made. In any weather-related announcement that goes out, the College takes great care to inform employees and students that they should use caution and common sense when deciding to travel to campus. We also allow students to use a weather-related absence as an excused absence. No one should ever take a risk they deem unreasonable to come to work or attend a class. I realize that the recent bad weather, and the fact the College has remained open, has caused a great deal of consternation among employees and students alike. Importantly, it gives us an opportunity to agree on a set of parameters in the event of closing the campus or curtailing operations that takes into consideration the fact that we are a residential campus with a commitment to ensuring the integrity of the educational experience.”
The email finished stating she is forming a small task force to make recommendations on what the college’s collective and individual responsibilities are to the education of the students, how best to ensure continuity in that effort and how to maintain the overall operation of the college when having to close or curtail operations because of the weather.
Late Tuesday night, Huot followed-up sending students a similiar email as well.
Ambrosini said staff shouldn’t have to travel to work in horrible weather conditions and that it saddens her that they have to use their personal vacation time instead of missing work. Staff members who asked to keep their names withheld, expressed to The Equinox concerns about the inclement weather policy and whether the administration might be considering the policy before canceling school.
The staff members wonder whether administration considers manipulating staff’s pay when it comes to closing the campus.
Faculty receive payment by salary and adjunct professors by contract, but staff receive pay hourly.
If operations are curtailed after the workday has begun, or if staff decide to stay home due to treacherous weather, they are forced to use earned time or a vacation day to cover the absence.
Inclement weather policy found on the KSC website (http://www.keene.edu/administration/policy/detail/weather) stated the following: “Staff absences due to weather concerns during regular operations:
If an employee makes the decision not to come to work during normal operations because of weather-related concerns, he or she must use earned time or vacation leave to cover that absence or take the time off without pay.
The staff member must communicate the decision to his or her supervisor. If the College moves to curtailed operations later in the day, the benefited staff members will be required only to use earned time or vacation time to cover the period of missed work up to the effective start of curtailed operations, and the remaining scheduled work hours” will receive regular pay.
Winsor said campus was not up to the ground crew’s standards on Monday, but it was passable and completely back to normal the following day. To help the cleanup, Winsor said Wednesday morning, Feb. 11 starting at 2 a.m. grounds crew hired two triaxle dump trucks and are going to start working on the big snow piles throughout campus.
Sean Crater is the Webmaster for The Equinox.
Bethany Ricciardi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org