A Storm of Confusion
Issue   |   Wed, 10/31/2012 - 18:38

It was the Sunday night before class, and confusion reigned supreme on campus. With Hurricane Sandy set to make landfall in several hours, students stayed up late waiting for information about classes the next day. Confused Facebook messages flew back and forth. Some students announced defeat in the waiting game and decided they were just going to skip class for their own safety in spite of forthcoming news.

An update on the website announcing that the College was closed only exacerbated the confusion. “Why do we still have class when campus buildings are closed?” students wondered. The confusion among students was compounded by the unfortunate information gaps that were created when only a handful of students received any official emails — many were lost and caught in email spam filters.

In order for the student body at large to receive any information, a student had to go so far as to contact the President of the College directly via social media late at night. It should be most concerning that, with Hurricane Sandy fast approaching, one vague tweet from @Biddy_Martin to @trusso15 served as the only real-time liaison between the student body and the administration.

Students widely criticized the administration’s lack of advanced planning and lack of clarity in its communications via email and on its website. Many other colleges including Columbia, Yale and the other 5-Colleges decided in advance to close for multiple days, whereas Amherst decided to cancel class just an hour before said classes were scheduled to begin on Monday morning. Students were also unsure what impact administrative office closures would have on their classes.

The administration’s indecisiveness was very difficult for students, whose plans are completely contingent upon the announcement by the College. For any student who was traveling over the weekend, off campus or wished to plan their workloads and midterm studying accordingly, the confusion prevented students from utilizing their time efficiently, and instead wasted many student’s time as they waited and searched for news. It was also certainly most frustrating for students at Amherst to be the only ones left in the dark among all their friends at other colleges.

We understand that the College may have waited until Monday morning to cancel class for a reason. However, what may have been an unwillingness to make an uninformed decision came across as an unwillingness to make any decision — especially one that would require administrators to work on the weekend.

In the future, when the administration does finally make plans to assess the weather and situation on the ground before canceling classes, it should directly inform the student body and faculty, it should have done so well in advance and it absolutely should have done so when concerned students took the initiative to establish communication. The College also should not have waited until the eleventh hour to make that final assessment, but rather followed the example of other colleges and taken action promptly, taking into account the students’ and faculty’s need for timely information.

Given the absence of any communications leaving professors accountable for making the final decision about classes, the administration should not have hesitated to make an executive decision, and let its actions deepen its already weak reputation of bureaucratic foot dragging. Professors do not appreciate it when students procrastinate. Similarly the administration should not procrastinate, especially on issues of student safety.

Mr. Readerguy (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/02/2012 - 00:34

The first announcement that offices were closing was confusing to students and professors. But it is worth noting, that students needn't have "wasted their time" trying to get information so that they could then, presumably, plan their time better. Do you really need to waste time trying to discover whether you will have more time off later? In the wake of this late announcement, students might consider the way that the internet feeds a need for instant information gratification. If this had been in the days before e-mail, notification would have come in the morning via posted signs in the dining hall, and, perhaps, through phone calls to RCs.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Sat, 11/03/2012 - 02:02

This is a very good article, but it misses one aspect of the situation on Sunday night. In their attempts to determine whether or not class would be held the next day, students called campus police and looked at the news from local radio stations, and were also sent an email by their RCs. But these sources provided conflicting information. The campus police, who, one would like to think, ought to know whether or not classes are canceled, or at least ought to know whether or not they know, told students that classes had been canceled. Similarly, a local radio station broadcast that Amherst had canceled classes the next day. It's possible that these were misinterpretations of the announcement that campus was closed, but even so, it demonstrates the college's failure to responsibly handle the dissemination of information (besides the very questionable wisdom of even considering holding classes during a storm severe enough to merit the otherwise closing of campus). Meanwhile, the email from our RCs told us that classes would be held the next day at the discretion of our professors. This obviously conflicts with the message from campus police and the radio station, but also conflicts with the president's announcement that the decision would be made on a school-wide basis the next morning.

All of these conflicting sources demonstrate not just foot-dragging on the part of the administration, but a very poor job clearly disseminating information.

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