As temperatures dropped, colleges unfazed by social media complaints
By Luke Turley
During Chicago’s coldest winter since the 1980s, students were unable to persuade university officials to close campuses, despite widespread complaints via social media.
Chicago experienced its second polar vortex of the season on Jan. 27 and 28. Students from various universities across the city posted on Facebook and tweeted urging teachers to cancel classes, and for university officials to close during the extreme cold.
On Loyola University Chicago’s official Facebook page, the school responded to two of the 28 posts related to the polar vortex, informing students that the campus would remain open unless otherwise indicated. Megan Troppito said in a statement: “Any potential issue/event that could impact campus operations, in this case weather, is carefully reviewed by our senior management.”
Temperatures stayed below zero for two days straight, forcing Chicago Public Schools to close. At private universities – most of which remained open – some students showed disapproval via social media, while others supported the decision to stay open. Loyola’s campus has only closed once in the past 10 years for 2011’s “Snowpocalypse,” when Lakeshore Drive was closed.
No schools have shown evidence that activity on social media, or student opinion of any kind, can influence the decision to remain open during severe weather conditions.
Troppito’s statement elaborated on Loyola’s approach: “Our [senior] management reviews all the facts and circumstances on and off campus and prioritizes life safety, property protection, preservation of academic programs, and business operations. Management works diligently to effectively and efficiently respond to and maintain campus operations throughout any such event.”
Loyola received a wide range of responses on Facebook, Twitter and through email. Some students posted humorous photos or memes, playfully embellishing the conditions, while others wrote earnest pleas for the university officials to close campus, or for professors to cancel their classes. Still some noted that it should remain at the discretion of individual professors as to whether they should cancel classes, and students should be able to make a responsible decision in inclement weather.
Students at University of Illinois at Urbana- Champagne had severe reactions to university Chancellor Phyllis Wise’s announcement that the school would remain open during the severe weather.
A number of students began tweeting racist and sexist comments aimed at Wise, generating the hashtag #F***Phyllis. Inside Higher Education published a response from Wise where she explains that while the dozen or so tweets “disturbed” her, they don’t accurately reflect U of I.
More than 8,000 individuals signed an online petition on Change.org asking Wise to close the school, amounting to nearly one third of U of I’s more than 32,000 student population. Their attempts at persuading officials to close the campus were unsuccessful.
Loyola’s USGA (United Student Government Association) president Pedro Guerrero sent an update via his personal Facebook account on Jan. 26, informing students:
“Update: as long as the CTA stays open, LUC stays open. Please make smart decisions tomorrow, and make sure to thank all the people who serve us at this university. Do everything you can to make tomorrow worth while, affirming others as you do so.”
Students and faculty expressed frustrations with the weather conditions, but support for the school’s decision to remain open.
Advertising professor Seung-Chul Yoo explained, “It was very tough for me… Still they’ve got to come here. If not, it’s also their choice, but they will lose some points.”
Professor Yoo commutes to Loyola’s Lakeshore Campus in Rogers Park to drop off his daughter at daycare, and then teaches a class at the Water Tower Campus, which takes him roughly an hour and a half to travel one way. “This is my duty, and your duty as well,” he said.
Joseph Nilson, a commuter student, said he had trouble starting his car in the extreme cold, though he did attend classes during the late January return of the polar vortex. Nilson’s first class was canceled just minutes before its scheduled start time.
“I stepped off the [L] train, and then I got the email, so then I had to sit around for three and a half hours waiting for my next class.” Nilson said. “I was kind of mad, but I don’t mind coming because school is school.”
The inclement weather did force some schools to close during the first polar vortex that remained open through the second one, such as Northwestern University and DePaul University.