By Gateway Staff, Photo Editor
We all saw it coming. Icy road conditions, subzero temperatures and dangerous wind chills were predicted for the start of the week. By Monday, it was clear that travel the next day would be difficult at best. By 9 p.m., every primary and secondary school and some colleges in the Omaha area had canceled school for Tuesday, and many daycares shut down in anticipation of dangerous road conditions.
Those that remained open: Creighton University, UNMC, Bellevue University and UNO. And UNO didn’t send any “official” word until the next morning.
UNO students didn’t accept this decision silently. The university’s Facebook page quickly became filled with comments critical of the decision not to close. We at The Gateway share in their frustration. Meteorologists had been tracking this storm for days. UNO administrators knew it was coming, yet were either incapable or unwilling to make a decision until late Tuesday afternoon, when it was already too late. Their delayed reaction to the easily observable and rapidly deteriorating weather conditions is inexcusable.
UNO is a school in constant transition. The last several years have seen the addition of new campuses, new colleges and on-site dormitories. But even though many students now live on campus, there’s still a large portion that must commute. Many people do not have access to public transportation. Some live as far away as Bellevue, Gretna or Elkhorn. When adverse weather strikes, as it has twice this semester, it can become difficult or even impossible for those students to make it to class.
And although many UNO professors are very patient and understand why students aren’t able to attend class, there are still those with strict attendance policies. Some professors don’t allow excused absences, snowmaggedon or not. Others allow two or three before penalizing students a full letter grade. If school is still on, and a student decides to heed the Omaha Police Department’s warning to not drive unless absolutely necessary, that student will be punished.
We all want to achieve our goal of higher education. Class attendance is crucial to achieving those goals. However, no student should ever be placed in the position of choosing between personal safety and class attendance.
Unfortunately, that’s the position that many commuter and non-traditional students found themselves in today. We understand that, in these situations, each student has a responsibility and a right to decide for him or herself the best way to deal with his or her circumstance. But we also believe that the university has a responsibility to make good decisions based on observable and predicted conditions, and not place students, faculty and staff in the situation we saw today.
It’s only February. We can expect several more weeks of cold, snowy weather. Though the chancellors made the right decision, they called it too late. By noon Tuesday, there had been multiple accidents reported, and police were recommending against interstate travel. Classes should have been canceled much earlier, for the sake of safety.