#UMichColdShoulder: Call on the University of Michigan to Cancel Class

#UMichColdShoulder: Call on the University of Michigan to Cancel Class

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Hoai An Pham
Hoai An Pham signed this petition

Our demand: The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor must close campus during harsh weather conditions - not just in extreme circumstances. A refusal to do so is classist and ableist, with disproportionate effects on workers, low income community members, and community members who are not able-bodied.

Email/call the regents and Schlissel with this message, and share your experience of having to go to school in these conditions with the hashtag #UMichColdShoulder.

As students, faculty, staff, and members of the broader University of Michigan-Ann Arbor community, we are concerned for the well-being of our community members given the extreme weather conditions. We are deeply disturbed by UM-Ann Arbor’s inattention to this issue and decision to allow classes to remain in session during this time. Classes have only been cancelled twice at the Ann Arbor campus in the past 40 years. While other schools in the area such as Eastern Michigan University and Ann Arbor Public Schools, as well as the other two UM campuses—Dearborn and Flint—have chosen to cancel classes, UM-AA has not.

According to the Michigan Daily, the last time the University was closed was on February 2nd, 2015 due to a severe snowstorm. Before that, the school closed on January 28th, 2014 due to temperatures dropping to -11 and wind chills approaching -30 degrees. On January 30th, 2019, the weather forecast projects a high of -4 and a low of -16, with an arctic air mass bringing a windchill of -40 degrees. If this forecast is true, the Midwest would be facing the coldest air it has in decades.

On Monday, January 28th, a Blue Bus spun out on the icy streets and crashed into a tree on Fuller Rd with a bus full of passengers. This is unacceptable. While thankfully no one was hurt, this incident demonstrates that the University cannot adequately ensure the safety of its students and the maintenance of its infrastructure in such conditions. There have been multiple other close calls involving the Blue Buses on Monday; buses unable to come to a complete stop, buses slipping on patches of ice, as well as buses stuck in the snow at stops and having to be towed out.

Maintaining business as usual during these weather conditions harms the most vulnerable UMich community members the most. People with physical disabilities and mobility restrictions have trouble making their way through the heavy snowfall, and there is serious risk of slipping and falling in the snow. It is impossible to maintain navigable paths and ramps throughout campus, making it even harder for those who require these accommodations to get to and from class. People who have health conditions that would be adversely affected by the weather could face serious consequences from being outside in these conditions; and with this being peak flu season, all students are at risk of getting sick. Faculty members will face the same issue, and will potentially be unable to make it to class. Thus, students may risk their safety to attend a class that could very well be cancelled last minute. On the other hand, there are no University policies in place which would respect and protect a student’s decision to stay home due to the rough conditions, which may severely impact their academic performance. This further increases disparities because it creates more barriers to success for marginalized students. Workers’ rights are violated when they are forced to attend work in harsh weather conditions and would have to take sick days in order to stay home safely. Bus drivers in particular are at risk because of the road conditions. Requiring them to work puts their safety in jeopardy, as well as their livelihood if they refuse to work.

These extreme weather conditions disproportionately affect low income students and university employees who have to commute to campus, especially given the fact that only the main roads in Ann Arbor are cleared. Not only would commuting students, faculty and staff have to leave earlier than usual to assure punctuality, they would most likely do so earlier in the morning, when roads are at their worst. Furthermore, if they reach campus safely, commuter students can either park on South or North Campus, and in both cases need to wait for Blue Buses to get them to Central Campus. On Saturday morning, the University of Michigan Campus Bus System issued a statement warning students to expect delays, and urging them to keep track of buses so as to not “stand outside any longer than necessary while waiting for the Bus.” However, commuter students can attest that this is practically impossible when waiting to get picked up from their respective parking lots. They will therefore most likely be forced to wait at their respective bus stops for an undefined period of time, which according to the UMich’s Campus Bus System itself can result in frostbite (“frostbite will occur in 10 minutes or less to exposed skin”).

Additionally, the likelihood of car batteries dying for many people from the stress of the extreme cold will cause many of those who commute to miss their classes, which could detrimentally affect their performance. Students have been advised to pack their cars with emergency supplies (blankets, gloves and scarves, jumper cables, etc.) in case their battery dies. However, in the instance that a student is unable to start their car, have it jumped by a friend or stranger, or reach operational transportation (i.e. buses), blankets, gloves and scarves will do little to protect them against the extreme temperature. In that instance, a student would be forced to pay to be jumped or towed, which many likely cannot afford. The University has offered no back-up in place for students stranded in a parking lot, despite the fact that many have class well into the evening, when many mechanics and auto shops that could potentially help in such a situation are closed.

This weather poses many threats to people in our community, and we demand that the University take action and put our safety first. Countless other schools in our area, including Eastern Michigan University and Ann Arbor Public Schools, have cancelled classes due to inclement weather. There is no reason the University of Michigan shouldn’t follow suit, as it is clear after today that the next few days warrant it. Not cancelling classes is not only a careless move, it spells ignorance on the administration’s part to the plight of many of its marginalized community members.


Original petition text written by: Chanelle Davis, Alexandra P., Amal Alzendani, Morgan Suntken, Hoai An Pham, Dane Laghans, Ilina Krishen, Isabelle Molnar and others