Despite student concern, UW-Whitewater remains open in cold

Despite student concern, UW-Whitewater remains open in cold

Feb. 12, 2014

By Vesna Brajkovic


With campus closings and class cancellations throughout Wisconsin due to dropping temperatures and harsh wind chills, some students are wondering why UW-Whitewater held out and left its doors open during the harsh conditions.

The first few weeks of classes were held on days where the wind chill was 50 below zero. In these conditions, according to’s wind chill chart, it would take only 10 minutes outside to get frostbite, roughly the same amount of time it takes to walk from the Wells Towers to Andersen Library.

As the temperatures dropped during the first week of classes, questions of cancellation were buzzing throughout the student body.

“I was waiting for class to be canceled and was really, really hoping,” sophomore Erin Herberlein said. “But I think we all knew it wouldn’t happen because Whitewater doesn’t do that.”

These few days at the start of the semester and the predicted low temperatures of the coming week prompted the university to send out a winter weather notice email to all students on Jan. 24. The email stated that UW-Whitewater would remain open, and it was unlikely that classes would be cancelled or delayed.

Although the decision to keep campus open during the frigid weather was preemptive, there were no additional services, such as shuttles, warming shelters or assistance to wheelchair users, provided or planned for Jan. 27 or 28.

The cancellation of classes across the UW school system, including UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison delaying opening campus, and left most UW-W students wondering: What about us?

Many students, like junior April Soller, said they wanted a cancellation because they felt like their health was at risk walking across campus.

“The cold chapped my face even though I wore a scarf over most of it. It hurt for days after,” Soller said. “I’m always cold anyways, so this was a little ridiculous. Teachers don’t realize that it’s quite a walk.”

When making the decision to cancel class, the chancellor has the final say, but with input from various people, including the vice chancellor and often the chief of police.

What does it take for UW-W to cancel classes? Possibly much more than just the harsh cold.

“So far we’ve been much more concerned about snow and dangerous driving,” Interim Provost Mary Pinkerton said. “Mainly because students on campus can kind of scoot into a building along the way, or dress appropriately. You know, the campus is only about two blocks across, so it’s not that far to walk.”

With the large number of commuters on campus, from students to faculty, the road conditions are always the first concern, Pinkerton said, who herself makes the commute to the university.

David Travis, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, often weighs in on the decision due to his background in climatology and connections with the National Weather Service. He said he agrees the concern is more toward extreme snowfall and commuters rather than students daring the cold going from class-to-class.

“The bigger concern is the threat to the faculty, and to, of course, the students, when they commute,” Travis said. “That’s why I didn’t have any issues with the decision not to cancel class, although it was miserable, and maybe people have problems getting their car started, once their vehicles were started, really the biggest threat was parking your car and running to your building.”

The decision to cancel classes is not a light one.

“[Canceling class] isn’t a simple decision; it’s a far more complex issue,” said Matthew Kiederlen, chief of University Police Services. “You’re not just canceling class, you’re essentially closing down a small city.”

With no mandatory cancellations, students and faculty were faced with the decision to attend and hold classes under their best judgment, and many continued class as normal.

“The thought of it was worse than actually going out in it,” England exchange student Sian Robinson said.

Travis said he encouraged the faculty  in his college who  were “committed to being here to teach” to tell their students it was their choice whether to show up. He said he insisted no one, student or faculty, should be penalized for missing class.

“I knew there were some students that were going to do everything they could to be here, and so I discouraged faculty from outright canceling class,” Travis said.

England exchange student Abigail Bryssau said she was one of those students.

“I went to all of my classes,” Bryssau said. “Once you get to campus, it wasn’t too bad.”

But if classes were to be cancelled, Travis said he was “perfectly fine” with it and faculty wouldn’t be penalized in any way as long as they had a plan for how they were going to make up the work.

“I’m real sensitive to making sure students get value for what they pay for with their tuition dollars, and when we cancel classes we’re taking that away from them,” Travis said.