The secret behind the snow day

Seeing snow on the ground may be a good reason to stay in bed – but it also may not be reason enough to close the University. In fact, it takes more than the good graces of Mother Nature to close a day of school at GW – it takes approval from several University officials, including the executive vice president and treasurer.

“What we try to do is assess the situation about our campuses and the ability of people to get to and from our campuses,” said Lou Katz, the executive vice president. “It also depends on whether students are here or not.”

In general, snow days depend on means of transportation, Katz said. In other words, whether or not the school can rely on the teachers to get to class on time, if at all.

“If students are here, we typically do not allow the teachers to leave,” Katz said. “The institution is open and we expect our employees to get to campus.”

With about 40,000 faculty, staff, students and visitors on GW’s campus each day and only 3,000 parking spaces, most people use the Metro or buses, Katz said. Thus, if public transportation is running, so are the professors to teach their classes.

Katz said the staff does their best in preparing the campus for a snowstorm so the University can always be open.

To help make sound decisions, Katz and Donald Lehman, the executive vice president for academic affairs, has a policy that dictates closings. The policy gives a detailed explanation of snow day procedures and official steps taken after the decision is made to shut down the University due to inclement weather.

First, the University telephone operators are notified that the campus will be closed. Next, an alert will appear on the campus advisories, in order to publicize the information.

When push comes to shove, the University remains open as much as possible, Katz said. Only unusually severe weather conditions will give the University a reason to shut down.

Lehman, Katz and University President Steven Knapp make the final decision as to whether classes will be canceled, delayed or if the University will be shut down.

“We look at the location of classes too,” Katz said. “Sometimes everything may be going perfectly here on Foggy Bottom, but we may cancel things at our Virginia locations, depending on the road conditions.”

Katz said every year there are a few times in which classes on certain campuses are canceled because of inclement weather, although the University as a whole has not been shut down more than five times in his 17 years at GW.

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