White winters still mean full classrooms for NKU

It might be nice to wake up to see “Northern Kentucky University – Closed” on the morning news, but at NKU, snow days are few and far between. The last full closure was Dec. 23, 2004, and last year’s winter storm, Dec. 8, 2005, during finals week only warranted a half-day.

“The roads need to be really severe for us to close school,” said Ken Ramey, vice president of Administration and Finance. “If a snow emergency is called in multiple surrounding counties, then we would probably close.”

Harold Todd, University Police chief, said the decision to call off school is based on a combination of the amount of snow on the ground, the progress of the snow and salt trucks and the current traffic conditions.

“If things are getting bad on campus and it appears that a majority of the roads coming in are becoming impassable, we’ll probably close school,” he said. “It’s not how much snow has fallen or when; what matters is how well that snow is being removed.”

Todd maintains close communication with the local police departments and watches the weather on television for any news about roads around campus.

“We do what everyone else does, and if it seems unsafe for students to come to school, then we’ll close,” he said.

Todd contacts Vice President of Facilities Larry Blake to discuss the current conditions on campus. Facilities management pre-treats and salts the roads and parking lots on campus and then salt walkways by hand. “We start treating and salting as soon as we see that the conditions are right, but if there is snow and ice we can’t keep up with, we’ll recommend a close,” Blake said.

Todd and Blake then call Ramey and the three decide whether the university should close or not, but Ramey gets the final say.

The Severe Weather Policy at NKU states the university will only close if campus facilities are damaged and considered unsafe, if essential utilities (such as heating or electrical services) are not working, or if the travel conditions are extremely hazardous. NKU has three severe weather plans.

Plan A cancels all classes and closes all offices at NKU’s Highland Heights and Covington campuses. Plan B cancels all classes on both campuses, but all non-teaching faculty and staff are to report to work. Plan C cancels all evening classes on both campuses. These severe weather plans are mostly designed for snow and ice conditions, but also apply to weather events such as tornadoes and power outages.

A Campbell County level one snow emergency constitutes “normal travel may be disrupted or otherwise adversely affected.” Level two snow emergencies restrict the roads to essential travel and level three allows only emergency vehicles.

Blake said NKU’s strict snow policy is not without reason. “Every time we close the university, you’re losing something. ”

However, some professors think the policy is a little strict. “They could be a little more lenient about calling snow days considering the high number of commuters. We are asking relatively young drivers to go out in the harshest of elements to get to class,” said Music professor John Zappa.

Geology Professor Brenda Hanke said, “When public schools with bus transit close for snow days, that could be a good indication that maybe NKU should do the same.”

Senior criminal justice major and commuter Kari Dishman said, “There have been several times when I couldn’t even get my car out of my driveway but classes were still being held. They need to realize that not everyone who goes to NKU lives in Highland Heights.”

Last year’s winter storm that caused the half-day occurred during finals week, and some students had a hard time making it to class. Sophomore math education major, Jordan Elberg, lives on campus now, but commuted to school for the 2005 fall semester. “Sometimes people just can’t come because it’s dangerous, but I couldn’t miss the final,” he said.

“Our students have to determine what’s in their best interest,” Ramey said. “We don’t want them taking unnecessary risks. I know some of the outlying and rural areas get rough when it snows, and the students’ safety is our first priority. However, people pay real good money to go here and we want to be available to them as much as possible.”

People who live on campus still have to bear the elements whether classes are open or not. Senior political science major and campus dweller John Gaffin thinks winter weather is a problem that mostly applies to commuters. “Most of the time the sidewalks and walkways are cleared pretty well except for a few icy patches here and there, but there are people who have pretty far commutes and they need to be considered,” he said.

If classes do close, Facilities Management staff will still be salting and plowing. “We try to keep the residential part of the campus as clear and safe as possible,” Blake said.

A decision to cancel classes and/or close the university is made by 6 a.m., and a decision to cancel only evening classes is made by 3 p.m. These cancellations and closings are posted on NKU’s Web site and announced on the radio and several television stations. Public Safety personnel will also post a recorded message that can be heard at (859) 572-6165 and (859) 572-6166.