Sunday, July 21, 2024

Student petition calls PSUC policies into question

At Plattsburgh State, snow days are few and far between but for a good reason. After a cancelation of classes last week from 4 p.m. Feb. 12 to noon Feb. 13 due to winter weather advisories in the area, the campus community may be wondering who, when, why and how these decisions are made. It starts with conversation.

  “From a process standpoint, when there’s a weather event that’s coming, there’s conversations that begin,” Ken Knelly, PSUC executive director of communications and public affairs, said.

This conversation involves representatives from Emergency Management, University Police, Maintenance and Operations, Administration and Finance and the Office of the President. Each of these departments has a voice in decisions to alter class schedules.

Unless under severe circumstances, the college is required to stay open; only the governor has the authority to close state offices and facilities, including the college. Knelly said the official college policy on extraordinary weather conditions requires that normal operations be continued as much as possible.

In addition, essential services, such as heating and plumbing, electrical, grounds, university police and health services, must be maintained. All college employees must report to work in the event of severe weather to avoid interruptions of these essential services, unless told otherwise by their supervisor.

Knelly said the process in making these decisions can involve meetings, group-texts or conference calls within days of a winter weather advisory notice. Any changes in schedules are communicated through multiple social media channels, such as email and website announcements.

“If we make a decision on a delay, we have all those different vehicles that we let people know about it through,” Knelly said. “I try to answer every single call or email that comes in to explain about the decision and help people understand.”

Two weeks ago, large amounts of ice coated the roads and sidewalks around campus on the evening of Feb. 6, making traveling and commuting difficult. More than 3,500 people signed a petition that night to cancel classes at PSUC the following day because of this. To some dismay, morning classes were canceled from 8 to 9:30 a.m.

However, Knelly said a lot of other factors influence the decision-making process to cancel classes, such as the monitoring of weather forecasts and the campus’s ability to resolve dangerous conditions safely.

“Whether there’s a petition or not a petition, it’s not going to alone drive the process in any one direction,” Knelly said. “We’re considering all those different things that are out there. Everything is part of the equation.”

Once those factors have been considered, Vice President of Administration and Finance Josee Larochelle makes a final recommendation on class-scheduling changes to the Office of the President.

Larochelle said last Tuesday’s forecast for an increase in snowfall led her and the other representatives to delay classes the next day.

“With the previous ice storm that occurred the previous week, there was still ice that was now going to be covered by the foot or more of snow that was coming, so we had the concerns of the safety of our faculty, staff and students,” Larochelle said.

Like Knelly, Larochelle also said the administration doesn’t have the power to close campus under severe weather conditions.

 “Even though we’re SUNY, we report up to the governor’s office,” Larochelle said. “We also don’t have the ability to close the campus. The president only has the ability to cancel classes.”

While these offices try to inform the campus community about these decisions, Larochelle said students and staff may be unaware of the campus administrative policies regarding extreme weather.

  “We’re entrusted with not only the academic learning for many students [but also] many students who reside within our residence halls,” Larochelle said. “Many people would have the perception that we would be able to make decisions on behalf of the college.”

Off campus, the types of decisions to clear roads and sidewalks involve the city of Plattsburgh’s snow-removal law and its residents.

The Press Republican reported that under the snow-removal law, those who own property bordering a sidewalk are responsible for clearing it within 24 hours of a snow event’s end to allow safe travel for pedestrians. While the city plow is tasked with the snow’s official removal, residents are accountable for the sidewalk’s upkeep. Those found in violation of the law are fined, and the Department of Public Works will clear it at the expense of the property owner.   

“This has been a difficult winter overall in the community,” Knelly said, referencing the snow-removal law. “There’s so many individual circumstances that it makes it hard.”

As Knelly receives emails and calls from people regarding class schedule changes, he recalled one person who claimed that the administration’s decision was influenced by their, “reputation for never canceling classes.” This, according to Knelly, is not true.

“It’s never a part of the conversation that we’re trying to keep a streak alive,” Knelly said. “When something happens, we have to take the facts that as they are.”

Making the campus community aware of the campus policy is something Knelly takes seriously. He knows not everyone will agree with the administration’s decisions but advises students and staff take their own safety into account when it comes to their own schedules and severe winter weather.

“It’s important for people know that there’s a process that we go through, and if we believe we can have classes and have it safely and have everything be in good shape, then we’ll have classes,” Knelly said. “I know that we do the best we can.”  

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