advice for snow days
A collective sigh of relief escaped the mouths of Bowdoin
students on Tuesday when we were informed that classes would not be canceled.
Whew! A resounding victory for the forces of knowledge!
Well, not exactly. Many of us grumbled irritably as we trudged
our way through knee-deep snow and whipping wind. But at least, if we
were walking, we were only risking extreme sogginess. For those living
off-campus, the snow posed a more serious threat.
Although Bowdoin recognized this threat, the College did
not take the most effective measures to alleviate it for either staff
or students. Kent Chabotar's email indicated that "non-essential" staff
would not have to report to work. This terminology, with its needlessly
negative connotations, belies a fundamental flaw in Bowdoin's standard
response to severe winter weather. The focus should not be upon whether
one particular campus position is "essential," and another is not, but
rather upon individuals. That is, the College's policy should simply be
that those who can make it to campus in inclement weather, should. For
those who cannot, whether they are "essential" or not is irrelevant.
Organization on this principle encourages misconceptions
among students. Along with other departments, the Office of Student Records
was closed for the snow day. Given the current administrative vocabulary,
one might assume, then, that the office is somehow unimportant. Anyone
who has dealt with Student Records knows how fallacious an assumption
that would be!
Labeling certain services "essential" also feeds Bowdoin
students' sometimes unhealthy sense of entitlement. While the College
probably should provide some food for students, asking the entire dining
staff to show up during severe weather-weather severe enough that the
College considers it too risky for all employees to attend work-underestimates
Bowdoin students. Are we so pampered that our need for two varieties of
soup and a full deli bar should overshadow the dangers that dining staff
face driving to work in the blustery conditions of last Tuesday? Surely
we could make do with some milk, juice, and PB&J for a day.
Another implicit assumption in Bowdoin's current snow day
scenario is that all students live on campus. Perhaps this would be the
case if the College provided more, quality on-campus housing options.
But as it stands, where perpetual over-admittance makes students fortunate
to find accommodation in Stowe Inn and other hovels, many students are
left annually to scramble for off-campus housing. For these students it
is surely a slap in the face to be denied good housing, and then be asked
to make perilous car journeys to class. Sure, students could opt to stay
home, but should our policies really expect students to sacrifice personal
safety for academics?
Bowdoin's severe weather policies do make us look hard-core;
no mere blizzard, raging for a paltry two days, is going to still Bowdoin
students' thirst for intellectual enlightenment. Yet, at what cost do
we maintain these policies? Other colleges in very similar situations,
including Bates, canceled classes and operated on very skeletal staffs
during the recent storm. And while a few students may have lamented the
class time lost and the slimmed dining options, it seems a safe bet that
the great majority of Bates' staff and students will not look back with
much bitterness upon the day it shut down. On most issues we might be
loath to admit the wisdom of our more primitive peer institution, but
on this one it is safe to say the Bobcats have blazed the best trail.