How do Chicago colleges and universities decide on snow days?

January 28, 2014|By Rachel Cromidas, @rachelcromidas | RedEye

UIC's extreme weather policy is listed on its website.  A previous version of the story misattributed it to a spokesman.

As Chicago’s temperatures dropped to record lows again this week, its college students wanted to know (and looked to social media for an answer): Do we have to go to school today?

And for the most part, the answer was yes, you do.

That response inspired a controversial Twitter firestorm from some students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, after students received an email Sunday telling them to bundle up for Monday’s classes.

Chicago Public Schools closed Monday and Tuesday, but many city higher education institutions stayed open; some school officials said that’s because they expected students to make adult decisions about how and whether they could get to class safely.

How do colleges decide what weather is tough enough to call off classes? Officials at many local schools said they have no set-in-stone policy, but instead examine a number of factors before making the call.

Loyola University Chicago in Rogers Park has only closed once in the past ten years, according to Megan Troppito, a university spokeswoman. That was during the February 2011 blizzard that forced a shutdown of Lake Shore Drive.

DePaul University in Lincoln Park stayed closed during the first polar vortex of the year, on Jan. 6, but remained open this week while the second polar vortex was underway.

Carol Hughes, a DePaul spokeswoman, said the school closed on the 6th because it was supposed to be the first day of a new semester, and scores of students and faculty were reporting problems returning to school from their winter breaks. The extreme cold and snow the weekend before delayed flights and temporarily shut down some airports, so a committee of DePaul administrators called for the closure.

“It was cold, but it was a transportation issue,” Hughes said. The school could close if public transportation wasn’t running, if the roads were closed, or if the school’s facilities, including building heat, water, and electricity, were not fully functional.

Last weekend, “We received many inquiries from parents and students,” Hughes said, “and our answer was yes, we're open. if you have trouble getting there contact your faculty.”

On DePaul’s Facebook page, several students posted concerns that they wouldn’t be able to make it to class on Monday or Tuesday, noting that professors' attendance and exam policies varied widely and that the weather conditions could make traveling to campus unsafe. Hughes said students were expected to make their own decisions about whether they could travel.

The City Colleges of Chicago were among the schools that closed Monday and Tuesday due to the extreme cold. Officials announced that they will be open again on Wednesday.

The University of Illinois at Chicago's campus policy is never to close entirely, even for extreme weather, and the policy says that some staff members could end up being charged for vacation time if they miss a day because of weather-related travel problems. But many classes were canceled during the “Snowpocalypse” of 2011, UIC spokesman Bill Burton said in an email.

“These are the only winter weather closures at UIC in this millennium,” he said.

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