Snow Days Policy in Review following Faculty Concerns

Sarah Manderbach ’22, Staff Writer

Many professors and students agree that Dickinson’s snow days policy makes them feel pressured to hold and attend classes despite snow.

The college’s current policy regarding snow days or inclement weather days is that if the weather is bad enough administrative offices and facilities can be closed. It is usually up to the faculty and professors to decide if they will host class. 

Neil Weissman, provost and dean of Dickinson College, explained why this is the current system. “The vast majority of students are close to classrooms and can safely attend,” Weissman said, “many faculty are also in close proximity to the campus as well.”

Weissman explained that one of the reasons class attendance is determined by faculty is in the case of labs or senior seminars. “There are many science classes where, if you lose one day and it happens to be a lab day, you lose an entire week of lab. That’s serious,” he said.

Susan Perabo, professor of creative writing and chair of the Academic Program and Standards Committee (APSC), discussed that the topic of snow days and inclement weather days is currently being discussed by the committee. “The last time we had a cancellation, there were some faculty who, even though the policy is that the professor can decide for himself or herself whether or not to hold classes on that day, some expressed concern that there was pressure for them to hold classes,” Perabo said.

Perabo also said that even though professors will not be penalized, they might feel “looked down upon” for cancelling classes.

The overall consensus from professors is that the policy isn’t optimal. 

Christine O’Neill, visiting lecturer in chemistry, said she appreciates the college recognizing severe weather, but said “my concern is that when the college is closed and classes may continue, I am not sure who is on campus to assist.  Being in the [chemistry] lab, sometimes assistance is required but that personnel may not be required to be on campus.  Those distinctions are not clear.”

Stacey Suver, an adjunct faculty member for American studies and English, believes that school should close on icy days. “On those days it is unsafe to even walk outside,” she said, “The college should close entirely on those days. Students who live on campus can fall and break something walking from one building to another.”

Cindy Samet, professor of chemistry, said that safety should be more important curriculum. “We have expert decision-making administrators whose judgement I trust. If they think it’s not safe for administrators and staff then it’s not safe for faculty and students. It’s also not fair to put the decision-making process on the shoulders of faculty. I would hate to hold class and have a student have an accident on the way in.”

Amy Wlodarski, associate professor of music, is trying to create support faculty’s decisions during snowdays. “This past winter, I made sure to touch-base with faculty who did have to reschedule lessons to let them know that I supported their decision. I think that helps contribute to a culture of respect and trust among colleagues, which enables us to make difficult decisions with confidence.”

“Faculty members take the tenure and promotion process very seriously,” said David Richeson, professor of mathematics. “I can imagine a junior faculty member being worried that she or he will be viewed negatively by the senior members of the department if she or he cancels class. On the other hand, some classes have a very full curriculum, and it is very difficult to make a full day’s material.”

Toby Reiner, associate professor of political science, said “I understand some older professors believe that faculty autonomy is important and the faculty should do as they see fit. Many younger faculty believe that it makes them under pressure to hold class. If the college really isn’t safe, there should be a communal decision.”

Olivia Trombley ’22 expressed how difficult it is on snow days for students like her who commute from off-campus. “When a snowstorm hits, the steep hills around my house quickly become slick and dangerous to drive. Because of these circumstances, I am usually forced to skip my classes on snow days.”

Although a few of her professors excuse Trombley on these days, she said her schoolwork is impacted. “I’m stuck missing material from lessons that day. Even worse, I am not excused from homework assignments and quizzes that I miss,” she said, “The guilt of missing class has pushed me to go to school anyway even when road conditions were dangerous and I put my own safety in jeopardy.”