McQuade: Snow days, snow problem

Some say Temple doesn’t cancel class often enough when snow strikes.

“No, I don’t think it’s a myth.”

Lauren Johnson, a junior transfer student, like a significant amount of her peers, asserted her view on one of the most common and frustrating winter struggles for Temple’ s students: the university’s supposed lack of snow days.

At her old college in Maryland, “at the sight of snow, they’d cancel the day before, whereas [at Temple], I have to check my phone at six in the morning to see if there’s a TU Alert,” Johnson said.

“I guess most of it is that since we’re such a big commuter school that we need to have safety,” she added.

As a commuter, I understand this familiar situation. It starts the same way every day: I head to the train station relatively early in the morning, attempting to find some solace in the blistering weather, standing beside half-asleep commuters – including employees, employers and students alike. Then I step onto the train, slightly panning my head to see if any vacant seats remain on the car behind me. If there aren’t any, I make a quick move toward the other car, struggling to find a place on the notoriously crowded Trenton line.

It’s certainly an odd situation to be involved in at 6:30 a.m., but, considering the thousands of other students who have to drive or take SEPTA buses, I shouldn’t be complaining.

Two weeks ago during the university’s closing, cancellations might have beguiled some freshmen, but many students were quick to circulate the seemingly long-standing myth of Temple rarely canceling classes.

Soon enough, however, I was relieved. The TU Alert, describing the cancellation, arrived – albeit more than an hour after it was issued, due to problems connecting to the Internet, most likely because of the weather.

This relief would not have been the case 10 years ago when in order for Temple to close, there would have to be a “storm of the century,” Chief Financial Officer Ken Kaiser said.

When the university switched and began to adopt – as all colleges should – a more accurate cancellation policy is not fully clear, but Kaiser said that up until five years ago, Temple really didn’t cancel classes that often. Temple’s “Inclement Weather and Unscheduled Campus Closings” policy was last amended in Sept. 2012, and is scheduled for a review in Sept. 2014.

Kaiser also said the university employs myriad guidelines for canceling classes, some of which consist of convening a board that decides whether to close the university, analyzing and observing whether the SEPTA train and bus schedules are running on time, checking whether the day is a regular schedule and listening to weather advisories.

So, what could have caused this myth to persist into 2014?

Perhaps it’s the fact that – from available data dating back through Sept. 2012 – there were only four days where snowfall caused the university to enact any sort of campus closing or class cancellation, and all four came in Jan. 2014. Save the past month, a university spokesman said he couldn’t remember campus being closed very often at all in the last few years.

According to the National Climatic Data Center’s Regional Snowfall Index, two snowstorms, one in Feb. 2013 listed as “major” and one in March 2013 listed as “significant,” hit the Philadelphia area in that timeframe. It is unclear as to why classes were not canceled in the aftermath of both storms.

Regardless, Johnson repeated a common sentiment, saying that Temple is “a big commuter school, so we need to have safety.”

Kaiser estimated that only half of Temple’s population commutes, with around 15,000 commuters and another 15,000 residents on or near Main Campus.

While Temple may be more of a “half and half” school than  a full-fledged commuter school nowadays, 15,000 commuting students is still a population larger than many small towns. This means that, in the event that a blizzard may strike the morning rush hour on the Schuylkill Expressway, many Owls are forced to skid across the highway to get to class when inclement weather hits.

While it would be silly to assume that Temple’s administration does not have the best interests of its commuter students at heart, perhaps some more preemptive cancellation practices are in order.

Romsin McQuade can be reached at

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