Heroes of Snowpocalypse: Who cancels classes?

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Mercer University students have missed two full days of classes and at least two half-days during what has been an unusually cold and snowy winter in Macon.

Last week, students waited for an email from Rick Cameron, senior assistant vice president for marketing and communications, to find out if classes would be canceled a second time this semester. Once students received the email, Cameron was dubbed a “hero” on Facebook.

What students may not realize, is that it takes more than an email from Cameron to cancel classes.

A committee of senior administrators for the Macon and Atlanta campuses will meet via teleconference when there is a threat of inclement weather, said Larry Brumley, senior vice president for marketing communications and chief of staff for Mercer.

“That makes it more complicated to make those decisions,” said Brumley. “Because Mercer has major campuses in Atlanta and Macon as well as some regional academic centers around the Atlanta area.”

Typically, the committee is made up of senior administrators such as Brumley; President William Underwood; James Netherton, executive vice president for administration and finance; Dr. Scott Davis, provost; Richard Swindle, senior vice president for the Atlanta campus; Penny Elkins, senior vice president for enrollment management; and Doug Pearson, dean of students.

However, sometimes scheduling conflicts prevent every administrator from participating in the calls. If only the Atlanta campus will be affected by weather, not every administrator in Macon will participate in the conference call.

When the group meets, they look at the weather and discuss options such as cancelling all classes or only cancelling morning or evening classes, said Pearson.

Brumley said that the decision to cancel classes is a difficult one, and last week the decision to cancel classes in Atlanta was much easier that the decision to cancel classes in Macon.

“Macon is 100 miles south of Atlanta, and usually Atlanta has more [weather] issues than Macon because it’s further north,” said Brumley. “The last episode we had in January, it was looking more like Macon was going to get the brunt of that storm than Atlanta, but it ended up flipping.”

Even with the best information, the committee still has to make “judgement calls,” said Brumley.

“The first priority for the institution is always to ensure the safety of our staff and students,” said Pearson. “However, the decision to cancel classes cannot be taken lightly.”

Both Brumley and Pearson said that if classes are canceled too much in one semester, make up days might need to be scheduled.

Three years ago, the Atlanta campus was closed due to snow and ice for at least four days, said Brumley, and make up classes were scheduled for Friday nights and Saturdays.

“That makes it difficult for everyone, so we prefer to operate normal hours where possible as long as we’re not compromising safety,” said Brumley.

The group of administrators consults with Aramark about keeping the cafeteria open.

“Food service is considered an essential operation and remains open,” said Pearson. “although they sometimes have more limited times of operation and food offerings.”

Brumley said, “We have to feed our students.”

Other essential services that remain available during school closings are Mercer Police and housing staff.

The University Center typically remains open during class cancellations because most of the student workers live on campus.

“Another priority is to keep the University Center open as many hours as possible in these circumstances so students have things to do besides just sit in their apartments or dorm rooms,” said Brumley.

Brumley said there will always be rare circumstances in which a few students, faculty or staff can’t drive to campus after it opens back up, but administrators, professors and supervisors work to accommodate people who may still be snowed in.

“We have to make [decisions] based on the widest possible number of students, faculty and staff,” said Brumley.

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