By: Kourtney Husnick
As the United States faced the polar vortex shift at the end of January, Cleveland State University closed its doors with two exceptions: the residence halls and the Viking Marketplace.
The university, like others in the area, announced on Tuesday, Jan. 29, that classes would be canceled and offices closed Wednesday and Thursday, with normal hours resuming Friday morning.
Closures begin with concerns for students’ safety, according to Anthony Traska, interim chief of police at the Cleveland State University Police Department.
The police department and facilities management team monitor the weather forecast through the National Weather Service and road conditions through the Ohio Department of Transportation.
When the forecast predicts hazardous road conditions, snowfall is more than the facilities team can keep up with before the university opens or temperatures are dangerously cold, Traska and the director of facilities make a recommendation to close the university. Representatives from the president’s office, university marketing, human resources and the provost offices then get involved to determine the best route of action.
“These communications are then sent out campus wide through our RAVE mass notification system where the campus community gets the notice through email, text and a phone call,” Traska explained in an email.
The university has no limit on the amount of days it can close.
“Each inclement weather situation is evaluated on a case by case basis,” Traska said. “The goal is to limit the academic impact closing the campus has on the students’ ability to attend class while ensuring the safety [of] everyone coming to campus.”
For those still on campus through extreme weather, however, Traska provided less information.
Residence hall desks remained regularly staffed, and the Viking Marketplace was open under their weekend hours of 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Yet with wind chill temperatures hitting well below zero, access to the Inner Link was limited with no warning.
“I figured that since the Marketplace was open, that they’d still have the Inner Link open, so [the cold] wasn’t a huge concern,” Spencer Toro, a freshman resident of Euclid Commons, said. “Once I found out it was closed, it changed the game.”
No information regarding the Inner Link was listed in the announcement emailed to students about the weather closure. The included preparedness tips in the press release the university released on Tuesday did not address safety measures for withstanding the cold or safely accessing the dining hall either.
“I kept checking the website for more information, and [there was] nothing,” Toro said.
Considering that the university manages the buildings’ hours through an automated access control system, this means buildings had to be intentionally locked by Cleveland State’s staff during the closure.
“The objective of access control is to provide a reasonable level of security for Cleveland State University and, at the same time, allow as much freedom of access as possible to the campus community,” the access control regulations document, available on the university’s website, explains.
The document goes on to explain that there is a designated single access control coordinator responsible for coordinating access control, including the control schedules.
For the Science Building, which is the closest building to access the Inner Link for residential students, the hours are listed Monday through Friday as 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., with the schedule not reflecting holidays or semester breaks. Nowhere in the building hours does Cleveland State warn residential students that building access will be unavailable in cases of closures caused by extreme weather.
“My glasses froze over on my way over there,” Toro said. “I tried to go in the Science Building [to get to the Inner Link], but the doors were closed.”
With wind chill temperatures low enough to cause frostbite within five to 10 minutes outside, according to the National Weather Service, limitations on access to the Inner Link was a surprise for many residential students.
When asked about the expectations for students to safely access the dining hall under these conditions, Traska only explained that “all dining facilities remain open and staffed as usual during a closure.” The Cauldron’s attempt to follow up on the safety aspect went unanswered.
However, even the answer provided was incorrect. All dining facilities were not open, as the original announcement from the university explained. Only the Viking Marketplace was staffed, and they were not functioning on their normal weekday hours.
Other criticisms also sparked during the weather closure. Many students took to Twitter complaining that Cleveland State took so long to announce cancellations. Notifications from the university went out beginning at around 3:30 p.m., while other universities made decisions as early as Case Western Reserve University’s 10:40 a.m. announcement.
Additional complaints included that night classes were not cancelled for Tuesday, despite the frigid temperatures already settling in, and that students were losing money with the cancelled classes. One Twitter user responded to the announcement requesting that the university refund $128 to all full-time students.