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Administrators Discuss Decisions Behind Snow Days

With continued snowfall over the past two weeks, the Greater Boston area is expecting below freezing temperatures for the next few days as the area is dealing with excess snow.
With continued snowfall over the past two weeks, the Greater Boston area is expecting below freezing temperatures for the next few days as the area is dealing with excess snow. By Zorigoo Tugsbayar
By Theodore R. Delwiche and Mariel A. Klein, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard has had seven snow days in the last 37 years, three of which fell in the past two weeks. Top administrators said on Tuesday the decision to shutter operations is a tough call that heavily focuses on road conditions and the availability of public transportation.

On Monday and Tuesday the University closed down operations and only critical personnel worked. On Jan. 27, the Harvard closed for winter storm “Juno”.

“I think that people overall appreciate and know how difficult these decisions are,” University Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp said. “Some people may disagree with the decision. Some people might have thought we should have stayed open today or we should have closed last week. This is an art, not a science.”

With continued snowfall over the past two weeks, the Greater Boston area is expecting below freezing temperatures for the next few days as the area is dealing with excess snow.
With continued snowfall over the past two weeks, the Greater Boston area is expecting below freezing temperatures for the next few days as the area is dealing with excess snow. By Zorigoo Tugsbayar

Lapp said that before she came to Harvard, the University’s procedures surrounding closures were not very well formed or centralized. Now, she said a crisis management team of around 30 school deans, Harvard University Health Services officials, central administrators, library representatives, the chief of police from Harvard University Police Department, and University spokesperson Jeff Neal have a conference call between 24 and 48 hours before an impending storm to discuss the University’s response.

Lapp said that they generally have two to three conference calls to determine whether or not to cancel non-critical operations. For Tuesday, Lapp said that MBTA’s decision to close operations played largely into the University’s closure.

“Well over a majority of our employees—staff and faculty—come in on public transportation,” Lapp said. “That was a real game-changer for folks.”

Meredith Weenick ’90, the University’s vice president for campus services, said that a team of more than 100 employees work along with contractors to remove snow. Weenick and Lapp said that the costs associated with snow removal don’t ever come into play for a decision to close the University.

“[Cost] doesn’t factor in at all,” Lapp said in an interview, which was also attended by Neal. “Safety and security of our students, faculty, and staff are paramount, and we take that very seriously. Whether we stay open or stay closed, we reinforce that message.”

The recent closures has caused unusual interruptions in class schedules.  Some instructors may hold make up classes during the evening, through virtual platforms such as Skype, or during Fridays, when many classes don’t typically meet, Dean of Undergraduate Education Harvard College Jay M. Harris wrote in an email.

Historically, it has taken major weather events to prompt a University closure. In 1977, former Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III joked that, “Harvard University will close only for an act of God, such as the end of the world.” Harvard closed in 2013 for winter storm “Nemo,” in 2012 for Hurricane Sandy, and in 1978 for three days for a blizzard. Unrelated to weather, the University closed in 2013 because of the manhunt for the alleged Boston Marathon bombers.

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at theodore.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.

—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at mariel.klein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariel_klein.

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