How class cancellations happen

December 8, 2015

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SUNY Oswego in April when the snow was melting, the temperature had spiked and it looked like spring had begun and the next day there were conditions nearing whiteout. | Justine Polonski

OSWEGO, N.Y. – When SUNY Oswego decides to cancel classes for the university as a whole, there is a whole team of people that are involved before students receive the SUNY NY-ALERT notification that lets them know.

The final word comes from Deborah Stanley, the university president (or her designee.) But first, a local forecaster a SUNY Oswego-specific weather forecast that aids in the decision. Once the decision is made on Stanley’s part, the university’s office of communications and marketing takes over to get word out to the campus population.

“Individual class cancellations are at the discretion of the instructor. Canceling all classes for a distinct period of time falls to President Stanley, or her designee, who confers with various staff members and departments (campus police, facilities, student affairs, academic affairs),” said Nicholas Lyons, SUNY Oswego’s vice president of administration. “These decisions are made on an individual basis taking into consideration predicted weather patterns, driving conditions, visibility, and other factors.”

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Another snowy day in April, following 3 days of 80 degree weather. | Justine Polonski

The university administration makes decisions of whether to cancel classes with these factors and one other thing in mind.

“The safety of our students and employees is the primary consideration of the decision-making process,” Lyons said.

Lyons also said that SUNY Oswego has a contracted local weather forecaster to provide an individual weather forecast that is area-specific to the campus as needed to aid in the process of decision-making.

“My office  does not make the decision, just the announcement,” said Julie Harrison Blissert, the director of SUNY Oswego’s office of communications and marketing, and also the university’s spokesperson.

The university population can find out about class cancellations in multiple ways. If they are subscribed to either email, text message, or phone call notifications from SUNY NY-ALERT, they will receive word in that form. Anyone can also call the SUNY Oswego Information Line at (315)-312–3333 to check for any class cancellations. And an announcement is always posted on SUNY Oswego’s main website’s home page when the university cancels classes. The announcements also play on local TV and radio stations, so people can also find out by tuning in to one of those.

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A screenshot of automatic notifications generated by the SUNY NY-ALERT system during the spring 2014 and 2015 semesters at SUNY Oswego. | Justine Polonski

SUNY Oswego’s office of communications and marketing also has a page off of the university’s main website with links on the side to information about severe weather procedures, class cancellations, procedures for canceling classes, and snow plowing. The site was created a few years ago to “clarify procedures for the college community,” said Harrison Blissert.

Here is a video showing how to navigate SUNY Oswego’s website to get to the pages on severe weather, class cancellations, procedures for cancelling classes, and snow plowing.

It was storms like the one that rocked the regions surrounding Oswego in 2007 that created the weather conditions that made forming a website to clarify procedures for the SUNY Oswego community a necessary action.

Donna Steiner is an assistant professor of SUNY Oswego’s English and creative writing department. She was a professor at the university in 2007 when the storm hit.

“I remember students standing on the roofs of their cars, using shovels to dig down,” said Steiner in regards to the snowstorm of 2007.

The lake-effect snowstorm of February 2007 lasted over a week. It dropped more than 10 feet of snow on certain parts of Oswego County.

Some professors who were teaching at SUNY Oswego at the time of the storm still tell stories of it to their new students. Other professors simply mention that it is a rare occurrence when classes are canceled at SUNY Oswego, even when one might expect them to be because of the severity of weather conditions. But that isn’t always the case.

Social media polls about university-wide class cancellations due to snow each year that were taken of alumni of SUNY Oswego had results across the board for all answers except for the over five option (including zero.) The same alumni had answers completely across the board from zero to more than five when asked how many times they had professors cancel classes at their own discretion because of snow.

When current students of the university were asked about their experiences with professors canceling classes due to snow at their own discretion, one said more than five, one said zero, and the rest said they had it happen somewhere between one and three times each year.

Here is a Storify showcasing my social media polls of both current students and alumni of SUNY Oswego about class cancellations due to inclement weather.

Classes are canceled at SUNY Oswego more than just rarely, and more than professors who were around for the storm of 2007 like to tell the freshmen. However, because of the severe wind conditions in Oswego, and the fact that it snows here regularly, whiteout conditions and those conditions nearing them occur often enough that the university seems to cancel classes less than people would expect when they see the conditions students sometimes go to class in.

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