On March 12, all classes were cancelled for the first time since February 2007, upon Dean of Students Leonard Sancilio’s email to students at 11:39 p.m. on March 11 due to stormy winter weather and an emergency alert in Livingston County.
Cheers and jubilation could be heard all over campus as the news spread, with the cancellation coming in the middle of midterm week. Such a response from students was to be expected, as Geneseo is known for its strict policy of remaining open even during times of extreme weather, due to the residential nature of the campus.
Interim President Carol Long was in California on business at the time, and thus the authority to cancel classes rested with the Vice President for Administration and Finance James Milroy. The decision-making process involves many members of Geneseo administration, however, including Sancilio, University Police Chief Thomas Kilcullen and Vice President for Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio.
“There were a lot of people involved in the decision, all night and all day involved in a back and forth regarding the decision and the status of the campus,” Milroy said.
What set this storm and the resulting cancellations apart from regular Geneseo winter storms was the fact that it was not born from the lake effect of the Great Lakes. Milroy said that this allowed the weather service to provide advance warning and allowed the administration to watch the storm and make calculated decisions.
“We knew that it wasn’t going to [have] a regional effect but that it was going to be statewide – maybe not in some parts of the state, but it was going to affect everyone from Western New York to the Finger Lakes region,” Milroy said.
Lake-effect snowfall can often be very spotty, dumping a lot of snow in some regions while other regions remain entirely unscathed.
The timing of the snowfall also played a major role in the decision to cancel classes. When Geneseo cancelled classes, the recorded temperature was 40 degrees, with light drizzles as the morning progressed. The majority of the snow was expected to fall mid-morning on March 12 and well into March 13. This made the administration uneasy regarding the transportation of faculty, staff and students.
“We knew we could get everyone to campus; the morning wasn’t so bad,” Milroy said. “Our concern was that, when all the snow piles up, how [we were] going to get everyone to leave at the same time when the road conditions were predicted to be as bad as they were.”
They then made the decision to cancel classes, which is the only move the administration has the authority to make by law. As a result, one-third of the working faculty could stay home, as well as the students.
This helped ease traffic on March 12, which was beneficial considering that Livingston County closed the roads until March 13 at 5 a.m. after the county declared a state of emergency.
While Geneseo and Livingston County took preemptive measures to ensure safety, Gov. Andrew Cuomo only closed college campuses after 2 p.m. on March 12 when the storm was at the height of its intensity.
Milroy said the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations received calls all day from Alfred University, the University of Buffalo, Buffalo State College and Geneseo regarding a decision.
“The governor, in my view, didn’t act timely enough to really give us an opportunity to make sure that everybody stayed someplace safe,” Milroy said.
Ultimately, the school will continue to stick to its statement that everyone needs to use their best judgment when it comes to extreme weather. Milroy said that faculty members always have the authority to cancel their own classes, as many did on March 13. He said that this especially applies to staff whose obligations the school cannot void through executive action.
“Personal safety is the most important thing and needs to come first and foremost,” Milroy said.