Snow Day Policy Change Delayed Following Faculty Dissent

Drew Kaplan ‘20, Editor-In-Chief

On Nov. 5, a proposal was brought before the faculty during their monthly meeting to change the college’s snow day policy. Faculty dissatisfaction with this policy led faculty to vote on Dec. 3 on a non-binding resolution to either endorse the proposal from the November meeting, or to endorse the current policy. 

[The vote tallied with 77 percent of faculty present endorsing a revision to the current policy, 22 percent voting for the policy proposed on Nov. 5, with one percent abstaining.

The proposal, developed by the Academic Program and Standards Committee (APSC), set forth a new policy which read that, in cases of inclement weather severe enough that college administrative offices are closed, that all academic classes would be cancelled. This policy was developed after faculty raised concerns that the current snow day policy, which allows faculty members to choose individually whether they will hold class on days where administrative offices are closed due to the weather, pressured them to hold classes or be looked down upon for not doing so. 

It was these concerns which initially prompted APSC to develop and propose a new snow day policy at the faculty meeting last month. However, disagreements erupted concerning how this proposed policy may conflict with professors’ personal opinions on whether it is safe to attend classes, and that other mitigating factors, such as weather, while some faculty with young children may opt to cancel class and stay home if their children’s school is also closed, other faculty members may not share this sentiment. 

Provost Neil Weissman explained that “after the conversation in the [Nov.] faculty meeting, the policy was sent back to APSC” to re-prepare and resubmit to the faculty for a vote on a non-binding resolution. “The non-binding resolution is an endorsement of the current policy, that it is up to the judgment of faculty members.” Weissman noted the concerns raised by faculty who teach three hour-once a week classes, such as labs and seminars, that the proposed policy change would cause scheduling issues should one of their fourteen total classes in the semester be cancelled. “One of the drivers in the conversation is concern from some junior faculty […] that if they were to cancel classes, it would be held against them in evaluation.” Weissman said “I’ve never seen this concerned expressed about anyone, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a perception around it.” 

Associate Professor of Economics Anthony Underwood explained that, in his view, “what a lot of junior faculty were concerned with was by saying that it is up to faculty discretion whether or not to have class,” and that this leads to a “strong urging to have class, which isn’t necessarily bad.” However, what causes problems for faculty is that, although they may feel pressured to hold classes, other factors may complicate this, such as child-care arrangements when local schools or the college’s child-care center is closed. 

“I think a lot of faculty are comfortable with the notion that people should be able to cancel class at their own discretion but that the college should not dictate that all classes are cancelled,” Underwood added, and that the “more nuanced language that made it clear that it was up to faculty discretion” which was endorsed at the faculty meeting will be useful.

However, other faculty members raised concerns about the implications. “I am concerned and I do not quite understand the source of anxiety among junior faculty” said Associate Professor of International Business & Management and International Studies Michael Fratantuono, “I think that any junior faculty member who says for family considerations, for common sense considerations associated with travelling a relatively long distance when there is inclement weather, should be trusted to make that choice.” Fratantuono explained his sentiment that the necessity of clarifying the language in itself “implicitly signals that there are cultural norms that make it important for young faculty to hear that they will not experience retaliation.” 

“Either the next generation has different sensibilities than I do, which I think maybe the case, or there has been a change in the culture, and I don’t think it’s the latter” added Fratantuono.

However, the decision regarding whether to change the policy is “ultimately in the hands of the President [Margee Ensign],” said Weissman.