It was a simpler time. When I began teaching in the mid-1970s, if a snowstorm hit, you just turned on the radio around 6:00 am to get the scoop. Your school was either open, closed, or delayed for a few hours. Of course, it was annoying if you tuned in right after the announcer had passed your institution on the alphabetized Rolodex. In that case, you might have to listen to the DJ play “Get Down Tonight” by KC and the Sunshine Band for the umpteenth time, followed by yet another commercial for Preparation H, before the list was repeated. Overall, though, the system worked reasonably well.
Welcome to 2019. Now, before the first flake touches down, a university email blusters into your inbox with a message as complex and litigation-proof as the battle plan for Operation Desert Storm. For example:
TO: The University Community
FROM: Campus Police
A wintry mix is expected in our area from 2:00 am to 5:30 am, accumulating less than 3 inches. The University will be open tomorrow and classes will be held, but please note the following:
— Students residing on campus who do not own appropriate footwear for icy conditions will not be required to attend class. (See the Student Handbook for definitions of “appropriate footwear” and “icy conditions” approved by our legal counsel). These students must provide proof to their instructor that they lack such footwear (e.g., a note from their shoe retailer or podiatrist).
— Commuting students who live within 10 miles of campus will be excused from class if their car has at least 2 bald tires — OR a total of only 3 tires, regardless of baldness.
— Commuters who reside more than 10 miles away will not be required to attend class if they live at the top of a steep driveway (45-degree angle or greater) and don’t have sand or salt to apply to said driveway.
— Tenured and tenure-track faculty members are encouraged to meet their assigned classes, but if they prefer not to, they may utilize the Adjunct Faculty Directory to select a substitute. Adjunct instructors who decline a substitution request will forfeit their shared office space for one semester as well as access to dry-erase markers for the same period.
— Students who miss a test due to this weather event are entitled to take an oral make-up exam over the phone within a week of the event. Administration of the exam is governed by the policy outlined in the preceding bullet.
— If weather conditions deteriorate while class is in session, the instructor may NOT slap students who nervously peer out the window for the duration of his or her lecture. The instructor SHALL drive home any and all commuting students who are reluctant to operate their own vehicle. The instructor’s mileage costs will be reimbursed by the University (obtain Travel Expense Form 471J, Version 5.2 from the Business Office).
In fairness, not all schools use the approach described above. At the University of Northern Minnesota in Littlefork, here’s the email that students and faculty receive:
TO: The Men and Women of UNM
FROM: Campus Permafrost Patrol
We expect 3 more feet of snow this evening. If you die overnight, feel free to skip class tomorrow. Otherwise, you damn well better show up.
Sounds good to us. All it lacks is a link to “Get Down Tonight.”