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Washburn and the Weather

by Melissa Brunner

While it seemed the rest of the world shut its doors in anticipation of a major winter storm, Washburn University stood its snow-covered ground and went about business as usual for a good part of Tuesday. Finally, just after 1 pm, the school announced that it would shutter the campus at 2:15 pm.

I heard a lot on Twitter from students asking why on earth school's leaders turned a cold shoulder in following the lead of seemingly every other major institution in the area. After all, KU and K-State both closed, as did state and city offices in the Capital City. Tuesday afternoon, Washburn University's President, Dr. Jerry Farley himself, gave me a call to explain the decision-making process. I wanted to share that conversation with you.

Dr. Farley says administrators elected early on to wait until Tuesday morning before making the call either way. Around 5 am Tuesday, he says university officials met and reviewed the current conditions and the projected forecast. He says they determined that there was no significant accumulation at that time and would not be overwhelming until at least noon or later. Therefore, he says, they decided to proceed with morning sessions.

I asked Dr. Farley how they could make that decision when the Governor was telling people to stay home and the City of Topeka was telling people to stay home. It would have been easy to close early on, Farley answered, but they want to make every effort to keep the doors open for students and, based on the information at hand Tuesday morning, they felt they were safely able to do that. As he was talking to me, he said he was looking out his office window at traffic on SW 17th Street and felt confident in standing by his decision.

How many students did it put on the streets? Farley says about 10 to 12 percent of Washburn's students live directly on campus and another 35 to 40 percent live within a few blocks of campus. I asked him whether staff members who didn't feel safe driving to work today would need to use vacation or personal time and he said, typically, if an employee felt it was a safety issue, they would try to work that out. Anecdotally, I had a few students tell me they received emails from their instructors that it would not count against them if they missed class Tuesday.

To be fair, Washburn was not entirely alone in its decision. Emporia State University also opened Tuesday morning, closing campus at 12:30 pm. Fort Hays State also started the day.

As for Wednesday, Dr. Farley says students shouldn't expect an answer Tuesday night. He says staff will assess and make a decision before 6 am Wednesday on how the campus will proceed. He told me the decision will largely depend on whether university staff can clear parking lots and sidewalks and how city of Topeka crews do in clearing the streets.

Agree or disagree with the process, but my thanks to Dr. Farley for taking the time to explain the process and answer questions about it.

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