In the wake of a severe winter storm that hit KW with heavy snow on the night of Feb. 1, UW’s <a href="https://uwimprint.ca/article/4859-uw-students-and-staff-outraged-over">decision to keep campus open</a> has proven to be controversial. Laurier, Conestoga College, and all elementary and high schools in the area closed for the day.
Since Feb. 2, the associate dean of math, Steven Furino, has received approximately 80 grievance forms filed under policy 70 and policy 33. For comparison sake, he normally only receives one or two grievances — sometimes zero — over the course of a year. Policy 70 deals with academic related grievances and Policy 33 is for discrimination issues.
“Going through the formal procedures set out by the university, it’s what we should do by the book, and it’s the only way we’re going to get a response,” said Elana Hashman, MathSoc VP events and acting VP academic.
She said the complaints of discrimination stem from the fact public schools and the on-campus daycare were closed, yet staff and students with children were expected to come to campus. She also cited students with disabilities as being discriminated against.
“Campus was not properly cleared; campus was not properly accessible … paths were not cleared, stairs were not cleared. It would have been physically impossible for a student in a wheelchair to get around campus,” Hashman said.
Students took to social media to express their frustration with what some said was a “blatant disregard” for students, staff, and faculty safety. Many tweets asked if Ian Orchard, VP academic & provost — who made the decision to leave campus open — was on campus himself amidst the weather conditions. <em>Imprint</em> confirmed with his office that he indeed was on campus.
There is currently a change.org petition circulating online with over 4,000 signatures and counting, urging the university to “re-evaluate inclement weather policies.”
The university had said Sunday night that an official announcement regarding school closure would come the following day at 6 a.m. Staff and students were left waiting until almost 8 a.m. for confirmation with no explanation for the delay.
In an email statement, Orchard said that the administration looked at both the local travel conditions and at the safety conditions of pathways when determining whether or not to keep campus open.
“We want to make sure that students, faculty and staff are able to reach the university safely.” Orchard said. “This morning, local public transportation was operating normally and regional roadways were plowed.”
Just over a year ago, Waterloo experienced one of its coldest days on record and the university remained open. The wind chill plummeted to a frigid -41 C, breaking a previous record. The decision then sparked debate about whether or not UW’s weather policy needed updating. After significant backlash on social media, the university said they would revisit the policy.
One year later, the policy has not been updated.
Orchard added in his statement, “In our judgment it was safe for students, staff and faculty to move around the University of Waterloo today. However, we recognize that individual areas may be affected in different ways, so students, faculty, and staff are reminded that they are responsible for determining when weather conditions make travel unsafe.”
The pressure of this year’s snow controversy and the resulting public outrage may force UW’s administration to take a more serious look at their policies regarding severe weather.