UTSG students are reacting negatively to the university’s decision to keep the campus open during the winter storm that took place last Tuesday, when Environment Canada had issued a warning for a mix of snow, ice pellets, freezing rain, and strong winds.
While both UTM and UTSC were closed as of 6:45 am on Tuesday morning, UTSG did not announce that classes would be cancelled at 4:00 pm until nearly noon. The campus itself remained open throughout the day.
Upset students say that the decision to keep campus open endangers commuters, who are disadvantaged by the late notice of class cancellations, after many students have already arrived on campus.
During similar severe weather on January 28, U of T notified UTSG students that classes were cancelled as of 6:00 pm with a UTAlert email just minutes before.
Critics say that it is especially important make the announcement earlier because the majority of UTSG students are commuters — a 2015 study by StudentMoveTO found that 53 per cent of students take either local or regional transit to get to campus.
The university says it takes many factors into consideration when deciding whether or not to cancel classes or close a campus, and said that the safety of the U of T community is a “top priority.”
“The decision to cancel classes or close a campus is always challenging and a number of factors are considered, including public transportation, highway conditions, and snow and ice removal on campus grounds. In addition, differences in geographic locations may often lead to decisions that differ at our three campuses,” said U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church.
Church denied the rumour that circulated on social media that U of T’s funding is affected by the decision to close campus. “Our provincial funding is based primarily on enrolment and is not affected by campus closures because of severe weather,” she said.
A change.org petition was created by a U of T student on the day of the storm, calling on Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat to close the St. George campus “in tandem with UTM and UTSC” during severe weather. It has already gathered over 4,000 signatures.
Maryama Ahmed, a fourth-year student, started the petition out of frustration, seeing early Tuesday morning that many other schools in the GTA were closed.
“I started the petition to respectfully show the decision-makers… that this kind of decision-making is irresponsible and dangerous, and that UTSG needs to change how they decide on school closures,” said Ahmed.
Several students described dangerous commutes to UTSG during the storms to The Varsity.
One second-year student said that while walking between classes, she slipped on a patch of ice and fell face forward. After visiting the Health & Wellness Centre, it was determined that she had a suspected concussion.
“I am extremely concerned for the health and well being of my fellow students during this intense season, and troubled that the university did not foresee the potential for problems, despite every other university and school board closing,” she said.
A third-year industrial engineering student who wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns, and who commutes from Brampton, said that they decided not to come to campus on Tuesday after they were rear-ended on the way home due to the dangerous driving conditions of the January 28 storm.
“I didn’t want to endanger myself out in the storm again. I think it’s completely unfair that there even has to be a trade-off between my safety versus my academics,” they said.
University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Anne Boucher commented on Reddit, “The university has a responsibility to ensure that students are able to attend classes safely.”
Boucher added that the UTSU is scheduling meetings with the administration to address the issue of campus closures in severe weather.
Schools and universities around the GTA closed their campuses in a similar fashion to UTM and UTSC. Ryerson University announced that it would be closed at 5:16 am, while York University announced that it would be closing its downtown locations and Keele and Glendon campuses effective 5:30 am. The Toronto District School Board, the largest in Canada, also called its first snow day since 2011.
Editor’s note (October 9, 2022): The Varsity has removed the name of the second-year student due to privacy concerns.