Despite an overnight ice storm leading into January 7 and a nine-year low in temperature that Tuesday, all three U of T campuses remained open for the first week of the winter semester. Weather officials in Toronto reported a low of -37 degrees Celsius, including wind-chill, while a thick covering of ice made campus difficult to navigate. In downtown Toronto, exposed skin was vulnerable to frostbite in a mere 10 minutes.
The university came to the decision to remain open at 6:00 am that day, when temperatures hovered around -30 degrees Celsius. This was not deemed severe enough for closure by the administration.
According to UTSC director of campus security and safety, Gary Pitcher, the university used a “five-factor” policy. Weather conditions, transit accessibility, campus conditions, road conditions, and whether or not other institutions in the area closed were all considered. The administration was satisfied with the functionality of each of the five factors. It also found ice and snowfall predictions to be far higher than what actually occurred.
A statement on U of T’s website advised students “to use public transportation where possible, as well as allowing plenty of time for travel to, from, and around campus.”
U of T’s three campuses were last closed on February 8, 2013, when Toronto was hit with 30 cm of snowfall — its heaviest in five years. That closure came at 3:00 pm however, which drew the ire of student leaders for the tardiness of the administration’s decision.
Several universities farther west cancelled classes due to record-breaking low temperatures. According to Environment Canada, the Kitchener-Waterloo region experienced an all-time low of -42 degrees Celsius with wind-chill. Western University and the University of Waterloo both cancelled classes on Tuesday. The University of Windsor was closed on Monday.
Inclement weather can make it particularly difficult for students with physical disabilities to move around campus, due to the icy ground. “[It’s been] a little challenging to push on sidewalks sometimes when there is heavy snow or ice, but so far it has been pretty accessible for me,” said Dion Green, a student athlete for U of T’s wheelchair basketball team, based at UTSC. He went on to add that despite some issues with a few areas being unsalted or bus ramps being frozen when getting to school, the campus itself has been reasonably accessible.
Nicole Grignard, an Information Officer with U of T’s Accessibility Services office, explained that “taxi chips are available” to some students who have consulted a Disability Counsellor, a service extended to all students as part of enrolment fees.
Like academic programming on campus, U of T’s social programming remained up and running during the harsh weather. The popular Winterfest event Pubcrawl took place Tuesday night, despite the cold.
Decisions regarding the university’s weather cancellation policy are made by the provost and the vice-president of human resources and equity on the St. George Campus. At the University of Toronto Mississauga and the University of Toronto Scarborough, the decisions are made by the vice-president and principal, respectively.