A record-breaking 30-centimetre snowfall prompted a tri-campus shutdown at U of T on Friday. Campuses at Scarborough and Mississauga declared a snow day early Friday morning, but student leaders harshly criticized Simcoe Hall for stalling on the decision to close St. George campus until nearly 3.00 pm.
“There are grave safety and equity concerns that lay within the non-closure of the university in such extreme weather conditions,” said Munib Sajjad, University of Toronto Students’ Union vice-president, university affairs. “I personally saw pictures of wheelchair ramps un-shovelled, professors cancelling classes without an email or message at 9 am and a number of commuting students finding out in surprise and dismay.”
Within hours, a Facebook group had been created called “Snow Day for Student Safety.” Members posted photos of unsafe ramps, walkways, and roads, and shared stories about personal injuries or falls. The group, along with Sajjad, urged students to email Provost Cheryl Misak and vice-president, human resources and equity Angela Hildyard, with whom the final decision to close St. George campus rests.
“Unfortunately, when we have a storm forecast followed by inclement weather, any decision, whatever it may be, about when to stay open and when to close the campuses will most certainly cause inconvenience and distress for many in our community,” said Misak through a university spokesperson. “We were on the one hand sensitive to safety and commuter issues … [but] we also had to be sensitive to the fact that many students wanted the St. George campus to stay open, in order to attend things that were important to them, from exams (both undergraduate and PhD), classes, swim meets, and special academic events.
“The decision about when to close a campus is always very difficult. We do our best to weigh all of the factors and we trust that our students, faculty and staff will know that they are not taken lightly.”
After the St. George campus closed at 3.00 pm Friday afternoon, students were advised that it would be possible to “take shelter” in Robarts Library, which remained open until 11.00 pm that evening.
There were unconfirmed reports of a car accident on campus. Drivers said cars were stuck in snowbanks or otherwise blocked, and that the university’s department of Transportation Services was backlogged with requests for assistance. The department did not return calls made by The Varsity, and a university spokesperson said staff had been working hard throughout the day to assist stranded drivers.
There have been three reported deaths in Canada from the storm, and clean-up from Friday’s blizzard is estimated to cost the City of Toronto up to $4 million.
For a social media recap of the snowday, click here