Student senators criticize University’s handling of snow day

Leading up to the University’s decision to cancel Monday classes, administrators were met with backlash from a student senator.

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Around 11 p.m. on Sunday, Jim Maskeri, senator and senior in LAS, sent a mass email to the Urbana-Champaign Senate, along with the provost’s and chancellor’s offices, to voice his concerns regarding how the University was handling the snowstorm.

The email was sent after Provost Ilesanmi Adesida sent out a mass email to students at around 9:30 p.m., warning them to avoid driving on Interstate 57 when returning to school. Adesida said students should contact their instructors if they would not be able to make it back to campus safely in time for Monday classes.

Maskeri said he was frustrated with the University’s delay in deciding whether to cancel Monday classes, adding that he sent the email after being contacted by several of his constituents.

“If classes were not canceled, faculty members had the flexibility to levy sanctions on students based on lack of attendance in class, and therefore, some students were put in the situation where they had to choose between their education and their safety,” Maskeri said. “That’s never a situation we want our students to be in.”

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said in an email that Maskeri’s message was not a cause for canceling classes. She cited various factors that affected the University’s decision to ultimately cancel class, including a change in the forecast from 6 inches of snow reported on Friday to 9 inches reported on Sunday. 

She added that Adesida and Chancellor Phyllis Wise were returning to campus during the storm.

“The chancellor and provost both drove to Champaign from Chicago on Interstate 57 Sunday evening, so they saw firsthand the need to use caution when driving in winter weather conditions,” Kaler said.

Sgt. Jose Dejesus, of the Illinois State Police, said in an email that police issued several alerts, advising motorists to stay off the roads during the hazardous weather conditions. He said they started issuing alerts before the severe weather began.

Maskeri said he wanted to make sure University officials were aware of the problems students were having while returning to campus.

He said his email sparked much debate among students and faculty members, including other senators, and some people voiced disapproval for his message. 

“We did have one email saying that my email was disrespectful to the provost and the chancellor,” Maskeri said. “I wholeheartedly reserve the right, as a student leader, to criticize and evaluate the decisions and administrators on behalf of the students I represent.”

The University’s Campus Emergency Operations Committee holds a conference call each time threatening weather occurs. Kaler said the CEOC discussed all factors, such as the current weather conditions, the forecast and the anticipated ability to keep campus streets and sidewalks accessible.

“When the CEOC met Sunday night, our crews felt they could keep up with the snow,” Kaler said. “During the night, it was determined that the storm was bigger than expected, and although the campus walkways would be passable, many employees would not be able to get to campus.”

Christopher Dayton, student senator and senior in LAS, responded in favor of Maskeri’s stance and said the email was “a spark that started a train (to cancel class).”

“The University (dragged) its feet about not canceling classes, but instead said that the students were at the mercy of their professors. I think that’s unfair,” Dayton said.

Dayton traveled southbound on I-57 from Wisconsin on Sunday, and the trip took from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. He said once he finally got off the expressway, he knew that the Interstate was not going to be safe.

“The University did not address the problem until 9:30 at night,” Dayton said. “Hours before 9:30, we knew that it was going to be a bad storm.” 

Wise sent a mass email around 1:30 a.m. Monday, saying that the day’s classes were canceled; however, the University remained open because of service operations and research projects.

Maskeri said he felt the University made the right decision by canceling classes.

“I really do think that the administration is doing everything they can to keep students safe,” Maskeri said. “In the end, I do think the right decision was made. However, I think it should’ve been made earlier.”

Monday was the first time the University issued a snow day since Feb. 2, 2011, when the Urbana-Champaign area saw 6 inches of snow.

Danielle can be reached at brown142@dailyillini.com. Dan can be reached at welin1@dailyillini.com.