What was supposed to only be a 24-hour campus closure due to “deteriorating conditions and bitterly cold temperatures” turned into three straight campus-wide snow days, which created what essentially was a five-day weekend.
Around noon on Wednesday, WVU announced that the University was closing its Morgantown campus and canceling classes for 24 hours, starting at 1 p.m.
On Thursday, a similar alert went out. Again around noon, WVU announced that the University would remain closed for the rest of the day. At 9 p.m., it was announced that campus would reopen and classes would resume on Friday, starting at 10:30 a.m.
Just after 9 a.m. on Friday, however, a final announcement was made that the University would remain closed for the rest of Friday.
While students and faculty undoubtedly appreciated not having to trudge to campus in single degree temperatures and double digit wind speeds, it was unclear at the beginning of the week if the University was going to make any schedule adjustments for the weather.
On Tuesday, the forecast for Wednesday was temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as negative 20 with the wind chill. With silence from the University at that time, students took it upon themselves to try and make their voices heard.
Carlton Howard, a senior wildlife and fisheries resources student from Columbus, Ohio, started a petition on change.org on Tuesday to try to convince University officials to cancel classes on Wednesday. In the description of the petition Howard wrote, “There are going to be -20 to -30 winds chills on campus tomorrow. Which are very unsafe to go to classes or to travel around campus in. West Virginia University claims student health and safety is their No. 1 concern. Well, if this is true, they would cancel classes so we don’t have to walk around in these brutal cold conditions all day tomorrow.”
Howard asserted that if the University officials cared about students and their safety as they claimed, they should cancel classes on Wednesday.
Upon the initial campus closure, WVU’s vice president for strategic initiatives Rob Alsop confirmed that student safety was indeed their top priority.
Alsop was quoted in an alert saying, “We determined this morning, based on the latest update, that closing and canceling classes is in the best interest of our students, staff and faculty. Their safety is our top priority.”
At the time of writing this article, Howard’s petition has 9,775 signatures, just shy of the 10,000 signature goal. Howard said via email that he started the petition because he felt that students should not have to travel to classes in negative degree temperatures.
“I made it because I felt that students should not be out in those extreme cold temperatures because it only takes 30 mins for skin that is exposed to get frost bite [sic],” Howard said.
Howard said he sent the petition to WVU’s administration office and to WVU President Gordon Gee in hopes that they would at least see it. In response, he only received an email from the administration office thanking him for his concern.
It is unclear what, if any, effect Howard’s petition had on the University’s decision to close but students were clearly concerned over the conditions and closing campus was undoubtedly the best course of action.
On Monday, after the publication of this article, WVU President E. Gordon Gee emailed Howard about the petition.
"Please know the weather was being monitored very closely and every effort to make reasonable decisions was put forth, as forecasts changed during the past few days," Gee wrote.