Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Delayed Openings

We're heading into snow season again. That means we'll probably have another round of snow day decisions to make.

Luckily, I don't make that call personally. I don't envy the poor soul who does.

Snow days aren't so bad. If the college simply closes for the day, then that's that. It creates some issues with missed material and makeup classes, and it's a &*#$@! nightmare if it happens during final exams, but otherwise, it's manageable.

Delayed openings are far worse.

The idea behind a delayed opening is to give the road crews some time to plow, and to give the storm time to die down or blow over. When the worst is over by the morning rush hour, there's a superficial argument for opening around, say, ten.

But it never really works out right.

First, of course, there are the students and employees who have school-aged children. Typically, if a storm is bad enough to cause a delayed opening at the college, it's bad enough to cause closures at many of the local school districts. That means that substantial numbers of parents are effectively forced to stay home. The resulting absenteeism creates weird inequities. Students who brave the snow anyway are often upset to discover that their professors didn't come in. Professors who did come in might have half their students out, making certain class activities (group work, say) impossible, and others (exams, introduction of new material) problematic.

Then there are the extended hands-on classes. If you have a three-hour chemistry lab, and the college is closed for the first hour or two, you may not be able to get anything meaningful done in the remaining time. Lab and studio classes, and their variants, are often all-or-nothing propositions. A lecture or discussion can be truncated on short notice, depending on the agility of the instructor. But a chemical reaction takes the time it takes.
Miss too much, and you've missed it all.

When you have multi-section lab classes, and the early morning sections fall a week (or two) behind the other ones, the logistical demands on the lab assistants become fearsome. In many cases, the only way to keep the labs humming along is to keep everything in sync. Get something out of sequence, and it gets ugly.

For students who bunch their classes early in the day, there's often the very real dilemma of whether it's worth doing battle with the road conditions on the off chance of the last hour of class actually meeting. I admire the ones who tough it out, and feel bad for them when the professor either couldn't make it in, or substituted a placeholder activity for the substantive class because of time and attendance issues.

This year I'm hoping every day is either on or off. Those in-betweens are just no fun at all.