Geneseo experienced a partial snow day on Tuesday Feb. 16—the first since March 12, 2014—and the third in the last 21 years. With snowfall totaling over 18 inches, conditions became unsafe for faculty, administration, clerical staff, commuter students and others traveling to Geneseo for work or study. Students received an email from the University Police Department at approximately 8:42 a.m. which reported the Livingston County Sheriff Department’s travel advisory warning and recommended that, “If you have already traveled to Geneseo, and have arrived safely, it is our suggestion that you remain in place until the travel advisory is lifted and weather conditions improve.”
Dean of Students and Director of Center for Community Leonard Sancilio sent out an email at 11:26 a.m. informing students that classes would be canceled beginning at 1 p.m. that day. By this time, many professors had individually cancelled classes due to hazardous road conditions or other obstacles due to the snow.
Professor of geography Darrell Norris suffered from these conditions during his drive to campus on I-390 South.
“I had a 10 a.m. class and—knowing that the storm was getting worse—I left my home in Rochester at 7 a.m. since there was no notification of cancelation or delay. Having done that journey thousands of times, I—arrogantly I might say—went on my way,” Norris said. “I made it one mile from the [Geneseo] exit, found myself being pushed off the road by the traffic going past me and ended up in the right shoulder, stuck in one or two feet of snow. This was around 8 a.m. and I missed my class because I was stuck for two and a half [to] three hours. I called AAA and they dug me out. I couldn’t even make a left at the exit to go north on 390.”
Norris, who has taught at Geneseo for 35 years, was surprised morning classes were not cancelled.
“I had heard that it was well-established at the national level that the Rochester-Geneseo corridor would be getting 12–18 inches, but the school delayed canceling classes because they were somehow only expecting three to five.”
“With a storm of this magnitude, canceling would’ve been a good idea,” professor of English Caroline Woidat said. Woidat recounted that she not only got her car stuck on I-390, but also got snowed into the parking lot once she finally got to campus.
“For the first time in my life, I threw a shovel in the back of my car—which turned out to be fortunate,” Woidat said. “I was at a stop sign and a huge semi-truck was behind me. I kept backing up and couldn’t get traction. [The driver] came to my car to help … He then shoveled out a path onto 20-A and, finally, I was able to get off the exit with a push on his instruction. He was definitely the hero that day because it’s a long walk from the 390 to campus.”
The late announcement of the snow day raised questions about the logistics behind class cancellations. Contrary to common belief, the school does not need the approval of the governor to cancel classes.
“We [the College President and the UPD] can decide to cancel classes on our own, but state operations must stay in effect until the governor says otherwise,” Chief of University Police Thomas Kilcullen said. “One way around that is to give liberal leave—allowing employees to leave at a designated time without penalty.”
One of Kilcullen’s jobs as Chief of University Police is to monitor the weather—specifically in these occasions. “When we began to monitor this storm, I looked at the snowfall totals map on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from the last storm and Geneseo had nothing, especially in comparison with Warsaw to the west and Rochester to the north,” he said. “It’s the topography of the valley that makes it so Geneseo doesn’t get as much snow. At 4 a.m., I got up and checked the storm tracker on the NOAA website and it said Geneseo was supposed to end up with seven or eight inches. I called and reached out to secondary schools in the area and the Livingston County and New York State Departments of Transportation to see what was closed and there was only one secondary school in the area that was.” Snowfall totals were as high as NOAA had predicted by 6 a.m.
According to Kilcullen, his main goal was to ensure everyone’s safety on a day when conditions were bad and getting worse by the hour. His reasoning behind the school’s decision to cancel classes past 1 p.m. was to give those who had to commute ample time to get home before the 5 p.m. rush hour. It also gave commuters time to leave in case traveling conditions became even worse, forcing a travel ban.
“I think there’s a certain amount of legal and ethical liability for making your employees travel in that weather that the college had to take on,” Norris said. “Missing morning classes for that day because a professor was either stuck or didn’t think it was worth it doesn’t even count as an excused absence.”