On December 15, 2022, forecasts of a winter storm prompted transit closures across Ontario. Environment Canada predicted up to 15 centimetres of snow across the GTA. Although the province received wet rain as opposed to heavy snow, U of T’s decision to keep campus open prompted confusion from some community members, begging the question: does U of T have snow days?

How U of T decides snow days  

Environment Canada issued a special storm warning and travel advisory to residents of the GTA for December 15. Although U of T remained open, the forecast led other Ontario universities, including Guelph University and Laurier University, to close their campuses. 

According to City News, most school buses across the GTA did not operate on the day of the storm, and the TTC closed the train service on Line 3 (Scarborough RT) because of the weather conditions. Over 75 per cent of U of T’s students identify as commuters and rely on transportation — such as the TTC and Mississauga’s MiWay — to get to campus. 

In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote, “Decisions around cancellations or closures due to adverse weather conditions are based not on one factor, but consideration of a multitude of factors.” Such factors include information from Environment Canada; academic divisions’ scheduled courses and exams; the local transit authority; the municipal and provincial police services’ stances; and the actions of “other relevant agencies and institutions,” including the Peel and Toronto District School Boards. 

“[The] safety of the U of T community is a top priority for the University when deciding whether to cancel classes or to close one or more campuses,” wrote the spokesperson.

According to the Division of the Vice-President and Provost, U of T attempts to announce any closures the morning of, by 6:30 am. “Because there are thousands of classes, exams, tests, labs and tutorials on our three campuses throughout any given day, tens of thousands of students are impacted by a decision to close,” the U of T spokesperson added. 

Snow day history

In a response to a Reddit post questioning whether U of T ever had snow days, the Arts and Science Student Union (ASSU) responded, “UofT St. George is famous for never closing, even when things are terrible outside of the downtown where most students are coming from.”

In January 2019, U of T received major backlash for their decision to cancel classes, labs, and tutorials at 5:43 pm due to a winter storm. Many people took to Twitter, expressing their frustration with U of T for not cancelling campus activities earlier in the day. 

Ken Schnell, the manager, annual campaigns at University of St. Michael’s College, responded  to the university’s closure announcement by tweeting, “You could have done this earlier in the day.” 

Lindsay Tramble, a second-year Master’s of Teaching student at U of T, tweeted that the “announcement should have been made hours ago.” She explained that many U of T community members commute to campus and “now have to turn around and commute back home again in dangerous conditions and rush hour traffic.”

In February of the same year, students at universities including Ontario College of Art & Design University, Toronto Metropolitan University, and York University, as well as the U of T’s Scarborough and Mississauga campuses, received a ‘much-welcomed’ snow day

However, UTSG initially decided to remain open, leading to the creation of a Change.org petition that received over 4,500 signatures. Around 4:00 pm that afternoon, U of T cancelled classes and labs at UTSG as weather conditions worsened.

Recent criticisms

From December 5 to 17, U of T honoured 2020 and 2021 graduates with in-person celebrations at Convocation Hall. 

In anticipation of the storm, the ASSU took to Twitter on December 14 and asked U of T to publish “a clear update on the status of Convocation tomorrow.” 

“Students [and] families are concerned about the ice pellets [and] freezing rain and if they can get the nice photo ops they’ve been waiting for!” tweeted the ASSU. The university did not respond to the tweet. 

Ahmad Faizan, an Exchange Program student at the Faculty of Arts & Science, arrived late to his ECO364 — International Trade exam due to TTC delays. He explained that his average commute lasts just less than an hour. However, on December 15, it took Faizan close to an hour and a half to commute to UTSG. He explained that he “wished for the examiner to have waited at least [10 minutes] before beginning the exam” so that people who struggled to get to campus could start the exam on time. 

According to the Sidney Smith Commons exam toolkit, students who arrive late should consult with their exam facilitator as soon as they arrive to discuss options. At the Downtown Campus, Accommodated Testing Services will not adjust the allotted exam time for students who arrive late to the exam. Testing services may also deny permission to write the exam to students with accommodations who arrive late. 

Students are able to reach out to their individual registrars for more information.