Cold weather causes controversy

UW administration stirred up controversy amongst students during the first week of classes with its decision to remain open despite a record-breaking wind chill in the Waterloo region.

The announcement sparked a full day of social media backlash from students, as well as Feds, who chose to close its offices and services for the day. The decision, made by Vice-President and Provost Geoff McBoyle, was released on social media and the UW home page early Jan. 7, the second day of classes.

“It was too cold,” Feds President David Collins said as the reason why Feds closed down for the day. “It was unreasonable to ask students and our staff to come in.”

Collins spent the morning in contact with the administration including a short phone call with McBoyle. This conversation led to the statement from UW senior administration that students would not be penalized for missing class that day; Feds counted this as a victory.

Nearby universities including Laurier and Guelph also remained open for the day, however Collins argued that their campuses are less spread out and have fewer buildings therefore students spend more time inside. Laurier also received significant social media attention for its decision to stay open.

Though the day was significantly less snowy than the previous day, the severe temperatures can cause skin to freeze within five minutes according to Environment Canada.

“The walk from environment [buildings] over to health services is five minutes,” said Collins.

Nick Manning, director of media relations for UW said that the group that currently consults the provost on weather conditions and includes representatives from Plant Ops and WRPS, will meet to discuss other factors that should affect school closures.

“Based on that social media feedback, we have a good starting point to consider,” said Manning. He added that the provost is considering adding representation from faculty and students to the review group. Collins is actively trying to obtain a seat in the review group as well.

“What we’ve done with the feedback we’ve received on social media is make sure that the senior leaders of the university have seen that,” said Manning.

Manning said that the reason the school remained open the entire day despite the weather warnings and student feedback is simply because cold temperatures are not currently addressed in the official UW closure policy, which was last updated in 2009.

The closure policy uses snow and ice accumulation as its primary factors in closing. Though there was not a significant amount of snow that day, the temperature low for Jan. 7 was -25.8 C with a wind chill making it feel like -41 C, the wind chill broke the previous record of -40.5 C, which was recorded in 1943.

An email was distributed to students, staff, and faculty on behalf of McBoyle acknowledging the “significant inconvenience” that was created when the university decided to remain open.

“I think with the power of students, we can make it better,” Collins said in regards to updating the school closure policy.


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