The number of inclement weather campus closures and delays this semester has been higher than in previous years, which is beginning to take a toll on classroom productivity and the functions of some facilities, according to administrators.
The university does not see a direct financial loss from closing the campus during the week, but a loss of productivity on those days poses a negative effect, said Bill Nance, vice president for Finance and Support Services. According to a University Policy and Procedure Statement, faculty and staff who receive a salary are paid regularly during campus closures and delays, but hourly-paid employees such as custodians and student workers do not receive compensation.
“We might have one of these (inclement weather days) every four or five years,” Nance said. “We’ve now had three in one semester. It’s very unusual.”
The education process suffers during campus closures and delays, Nance said. The delays make different sections of the same class become off schedule and often cause faculty to rush lectures for one section to sync with the others in time for finals, he said.
“We won’t have to make up days, but it is a burden on faculty to figure out how to get the class material covered in fewer days,” Nance said. “There’s no penalty like the K-12 public schools. We’re not funded like that, so there’s no hit on revenue from the state.”
Facility crews work to ensure safety is maintained around campus, even when the university closes for inclement weather, said Juan Guerra, associate vice president of Facilities. Facility crews work with grounds employees to place sand on stairwells and walkways, help custodians mop water and ensure heaters are working in the buildings, Guerra said.
“The whole facilities crew knows that we still have 6,000 students living on campus,” Guerra said. “We still have to show up and make sure all the utilities, all the heaters and all the buildings are still working.”
Guerra said continued cold weather conditions have increased consumption of natural gas to heat buildings on campus. The university pays a flat natural gas rate that expires at the end of March, Guerra said.
“Normally we run two boilers, but this winter we’re running all four boilers to keep up with demand on campus for the heating,” Guerra said. “We locked in our rate, so at least we’re not seeing the spike in prices that others are seeing. We’re not fluctuating with the market right now.”
The university “could have taken a hit” from the cost of natural gas with the abnormal consumption this winter, if not for the “locked in” rate, according to Nance.
Emergency Management officials advise administrators about inclement weather conditions, but University President Denise Trauth makes the final decisions regarding campus closures and delays, said Palmer, Emergency Management coordinator. New procedures were implemented last week to notify students of campus closures by 2 a.m. on the morning of adverse conditions.
Palmer said road conditions are a “huge factor” in deciding whether to close campus because some students have “quite a bit of highway” to reach campus. Emergency Management officials hold conference calls with various county and state agencies including the Department of Transportation for updates about conditions.
“It’s kind of been an aggressive winter, especially in the past few weeks,” Palmer said.
Future inclement weather decisions will be weighed heavily, especially since there has been a reduction in classroom productivity resulting from campus closures and delays this semester, Nance said.
“It’s a very complex and difficult decision to make when you have to close,” Nance said. “Lost productivity is serious, but if it’s a serious ice day, the number one priority is people’s safety. So you err on the side of caution, even though there is a consequence to closing.”