Inclement Weather Policy: Cruelty or Pragmatism?

The University of Illinois Springfield canceled classes from the evening of January 29 through January 30 due to inclement weather. Temperatures plummeted to as low as negative 50 degree windchill on that Wednesday night, with ice layered along sidewalks, roads, and pathways. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, 144 people were hospitalized in Illinois alone for hypothermia, frostbite and other conditions caused by the weather. Three elderly Chicago citizens died with cold-related symptoms contributing to their causes of death.

Department of Residence Life Staff sent out a list of tips for campus residents on how to deal with weather at this level of severity, including leaving a small amount of water running to help keep the pipes from freezing. Some individuals on campus had never experienced weather quite that bad before and many students, as well as some staff members, believed that a little over one day of canceled classes was not enough to keep students warm and safe. Additionally, if the safety of all people on campus is the number one priority, they noted, why were employees forced to cut into their vacation or personal leave hours if they couldn’t make it to work? Employees sometimes live over an hour’s drive away from campus.

The roads on January 29 were layered with ice in some areas, making the drive a formidable hazard. Employees with dependents, such as children, were not able to closely supervise or otherwise keep them safe while they worked. Unless workers had someone to watch over their kids, the risk of serious harm was conceivable.

Of course, it is understood that some utilities and buildings need to be constantly managed in order for the school to run properly. The university would also have to pay employees extra if the Liberal Leave Policy were not in effect and workers permitted time off without having to cut into their personal hours. However, as stated, health and safety should always be first priority.

There are also blind and otherwise students with disabilities on campus who could have been seriously injured due to the lack of pre-salted walkways. Already injured individuals, such as people on crutches or in wheelchairs, were also at much higher risk for injury with all the slick ice prevalent on campus walkways. Simply putting up a few cones in one particularly slippery area may not enough to protect against a hazard encompassing many of the walking areas on campus.