SOUTH BEND – Rawa Saleh, an Indiana University South Bend student, said she spent 45 minutes clearing snow and ice from her car Monday morning to get ready for her 9:30 a.m. class. She was about halfway through her 30 minute journey to the South Bend campus when she received a text that said campus would close at 10 a.m.
“You can imagine how upset I was,” she said.
IUSB posted a Facebook status Sunday evening declaring that school would be open Monday, Jan. 27. By early Monday morning that post had received more than 100 comments, many of them from upset students citing subzero wind chills and hazardous road conditions.
At around 9 a.m. Monday morning, campus alerts went out stating that campus would close at 10 a.m.
“To specifically put out a message to students that classes were to continue as normal, and then ‘change their minds’ when the weather was exactly as forecasted, is absolutely inconsiderate of those who made the decision,” Saleh said. “They put students and staff in danger.”
In a call Monday afternoon, Ken Baierl, IUB director of communications and marketing, was apologetic about the stress and confusion some students endured that morning.
“It was a very intense morning as we tried to figure out the right thing to do as all those things were happening and you know, we really do understand the frustration and the confusion,” Baierl said. “We understand that we didn’t accommodate our students very well given all the circumstances.”
According to Baierl, the decision to keep campus open is ultimately up to Chancellor Terry Allison, but that decision includes input from Baierl, the director of facilities management and the chief of campus police. The initial decision Sunday night to keep campus open Monday was based on the lack of snowfall and relatively clear roads.
“At that time there had only been a travel advisory in St. Joe and outlying counties, which meant you could travel but just be careful, so streets were available for travel based on that advisory,” Baierl said.
They knew temperatures would drop, but they figured it would be safe for people to get to classes in the morning and hold classes all day, Baierl said.
“And then we would make the decision about Tuesday, which appeared to be the worst of the two days,” he said.
By mid-morning Monday, Marshall and Elkhart counties had issued a travel warning.
“That’s kind of what we were looking for from St. Joe County the night before,” Baierl said. “At that point, it was clear to us that the travel conditions were worsening, not improving. Then we made the decision to close at 10 a.m.”,
Shortly after that decision was made, St. Joseph County issued a travel emergency warning that went into effect at noon.
In addition to sending campus alerts to students, faculty and staff via calls, texts and emails, IU South Bend updated their Facebook around 9 a.m. Monday with a post about the decision to close campus.
“Good job on letting me get to my 8:30 [a.m.] class before deciding to make such an obvious decision,” commented Ross Bryant.
“I must say I am relieved,” wrote Bryen Miller.
Still, Miller said he would’ve “absolutely” gone to his Monday evening classes had campus remained open.
“There are no snow days when you’re an adult working in the world,” Miller said. “If you can’t make it in then use your best judgment, but understand there are consequences.”
The South Bend Police have declared a winter weather emergency, and driving bans in St. Joseph County will last from 7 p.m. Monday through 6 p.m. Tuesday.
According to Baierl, IUSB will also be closed all day Tuesday.
“We apologize for any hardship that might have been caused for students, faculty or staff trying to get to campus this morning," Baierl said, "and lesson learned by us.”