It has become a running joke, and also an expectation, that in severe weather UNO tends to avoid cancelling classes. Even when all other schools close down in the Omaha metro area, UNO holds a pattern of staying open and operating class as per usual. Although many metro area schools chose to stay open with the most recent snowfall, the road conditions many students and staff were forced to face were a harsh reminder of UNO’s enduring commitment to staying open in the worst weather.
Although the road conditions of the most recent snowstorm can largely be attributed to the city of Omaha’s slow response to getting snow plows out and about the city, university officials should be cognizant enough to realize that when multiple inches of snow are on the ground before the first classes are even in session, students will have a difficult time driving to campus. In fact, even hours into Tuesday morning the majority of the main sidewalks on campus were still not cleared of snow to facilitate pedestrian traffic. With snowfall so severe that even the university could not keep up with clearing sidewalks, how could they expect conditions off-campus to fare much better? By midday, parts of Dodge street relatively near campus were completely closed off as impassible traffic backups prevented any sort of travel.
It seems contradictory that UNO prides itself on viewing the entirety of Omaha as its campus yet continually fails to accommodate the students that travel to UNO from the outer reaches of the Metro. The lack of on-campus parking has been a point of contention for many years, and more often than not, in cases of severe inclement weather students and staff find themselves obligated to somehow make their way to campus. Those lucky enough to own personal vehicles face the hazards of getting to campus from the edges of the city and even farther, as many students commute from small rural towns just past the edges of Omaha. Students and staff reliant on public transport have to wait ankle-deep in snow in below freezing temperatures for buses that may be late or might not even show up at all thanks to the weather.
The case could be made that students are free to assess the situation and determine whether or not they can safely make it to class. Unfortunately, strict attendance guidelines often create a catch-22 between whether students want to risk their grades or risk their personal safety. Many degree-required classes have strict attendance guidelines set up by the college itself, and after a certain number of absences, excused or unexcused, students will see their grades drop down levels even after completing all of their coursework on time.
Overall, students should feel secure in knowing that they can stay home and ensure their safety while simultaneously being assured that their grades will not suffer due to lack of attendance. The university can address this by two ways: they can either guarantee to students that their grades will not be impacted by staying home in severe weather, or the university can do the more sensible thing and close down during this kind of weather, ensuring the safety of not just their students, but the entire body of their faculty and staff. The university eventually chose to close down the campus and cancel their afternoon classes, making the announcement at 3p.m. However, for the students and staff forced to brave the elements in the morning, the decision came a little too late.