This February’s Syracuse-like winter weather inconvenienced students, faculty and staff alike. The university and its employees should be commended for staying ahead of the storm, keeping sidewalks clean and ensuring the continuation of basic services at O’Donovan Hall and Lauinger Library. Its decisions to cancel the Presidents Day holiday and to open up an end-of-term study day for classes, however, were inappropriate.

The university administration’s announcement that classes would be held on a national holiday – considering that many students had made travel plans for the long weekend – was untimely. The subsequent announcement that the first of only three study days will be the second makeup day is unacceptable.

Students recognize and understand the challenges posed by the forced cancellation of a week of classes. Missed material must be taught, deadlines moved for assignments and labs and entire syllabuses adjusted. Both students and professors must be flexible in an effort to complete the semester successfully. But creating more stress during the chaotic end of the semester is not the answer.

University Provost James O’Donnell has become the point person for the university’s response to the snowstorms. He said in his campus-wide e-mails that the makeup day decisions were made in conjunction with administrative and academic leaders. It seems, however, that student concerns were neglected. Students need to be willing to work with their professors to ensure that class material is completed, but they shouldn’t have to choose between expensive flights (and cancellation fees) and already limited study time or class time.

The learning process is not confined to the classroom. Despite the fact that classes were put on hold, student work did not completely cease during the snow week. Professors and students utilized Blackboard and e-mail to continue discussions outside the classroom. In some cases, extra assignments or readings were assigned, and a few professors even scheduled virtual classes. Indeed, the provost’s e-mails acknowledged that the campus community pulled together in the face of a trying ordeal.

Why, then, does the university see the need to be draconian in its makeup policy? For although the provost has stated otherwise, that is exactly what the decision to allow professors to hold classes on May 4 is.

The question deserves asking: What does the university see as the value of holding classes on a study day? Presumably, it will be too close to the start of finals for professors to cover new material on that day. Perhaps May 4 will be used to hold review sessions. But if that is the case, why not encourage professors to schedule optional sessions that students can attend at their discretion? For most, finals period means sleep deprivation, term papers, marathon study sessions and caffeinated beverages.

During a week when every minute counts and deadlines loom, there is no reason to exacerbate student stress by chipping away at study time.

Going forward, the university ought to consider developing a new policy to account for the possibility of blizzards or other inhibitive weather. It could follow the example of many high schools across the country that designate certain holidays – such as Presidents Day – as replacements for potential snow days. Students would then know up front that there is a possibility of holding class on those days before making their travel plans. Such a policy would significantly cut down on the frustration that accompanied last week’s makeup day. No one can control the weather, but we can at least be prepared for its aftermath.

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