For the second time this month, The University of Western Ontario closed its doors on Wednesday, Dec. 15 due to inclement weather.
A winter snowstorm has ravaged Southwestern Ontario, leaving hundreds stranded on Highway 402 and caused several accidents on area highways. In London, the city has received more snow in December than the total accumulation last winter.
“Once again, Mother Nature reminded us who’s in charge, but our campus community persevered,” says Western president Amit Chakma. “I greatly appreciate the understanding and flexibility people have demonstrated in adapting and altering their plans to accommodate the situation.”
The bad weather conditions forced the university to cancel exams on Dec. 16, a week after cancelling classes and closing the university on Dec. 6 (afternoon), Dec. 7 and Dec. 8.
In recent memory, this is the most days in one month the university has closed due to weather conditions, says Gitta Kulczycki, vice-president (Resources & Operations).
“Every time we encounter a weather or emergency situation and we need to call on our staff in grounds, caretaking, residences, food services, police, communications and all the other service areas, they absolutely deliver. We owe them a debt of gratitude,” says Kulczycki.
Grounds and recycling supervisor Jim Galbraith, who has been working at Western for several years, told Kulczycki early Dec. 15, “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve never seen snow like this … we can’t keep up with the volume.”
Based on these observations, Kulczycki, in consultation with vice-president academic Janice Deakin, decided to close the university due to unsafe conditions. “No exam is ever worth a student tragedy,” says Kulczycki.
Timing couldn’t have been worse for the university to be struck by a snowstorm, as it occurred during the exam period. The cancelled exams have been rescheduled for Sunday, Dec. 19. The schedule for the exams can be accessed here.
Communications staff monitored Twitter and Facebook to address questions and issues raised by students, and posted media releases on the Western home page in the early hours of the morning on Dec. 15 to notify the public of the university closure.
Although winter has not officially started yet, university grounds crews have been working in full force to clear the snow across campus. University residences also played a critical role, as Delaware Hall served as temporary accommodations for out-of-town students on campus unable to return home when roads outside the city were closed Dec. 14.
To help relieve some of the exam stress, many students took advantage of the winter wonderland and played in the snow; others took advantage of the extra day of study. Residence staff hit the floors, talking to students and alleviating anxieties residents experienced due to postponed exams.
“Throughout our various residences, many student staff members helped out by taking a shift at the front desks,” says Peggy Wakabayashi, director of residences. “We are fortunate that our Housing staff and our colleagues in Hospitality Services and Physical Plant really care about the wellbeing of the residents. Many of these individuals made extra efforts to be here for the sake of our students.”
Housing staff provided regular e-mail updates to keep residents informed. Residence staff members were available to trouble-shoot questions and listen to students’ concerns. Anticipating concerns about delayed travel plans due to the altered exams, residence staff sought information and provided FAQ’s to address these concerns. As an added treat, Hospitality Services on campus shared complimentary donuts that had been baked in anticipation of a “regular” day on Wednesday.
“We are fortunate to have such dedicated student leaders within our system, not only the resident student staff members, but also our sophs and residents’ council members. They provide a strong unified team of support,” says Wakabayashi. “Our student staff members are well trained and enjoy the challenge of helping out when an emergency situation arises. We couldn’t do it without the commitment of our student staff members and the live-in Residence Managers.”