“We heard your concerns”: UTSG adjusts adverse weather closure policy

Administration responds to student outrage, outlines efforts to announce closures by 6:30 am

“We heard your concerns”: UTSG adjusts adverse weather closure policy

On October 31, U of T’s Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat released a memo outlining new adjustments to its adverse weather closure policy, which commits to notifying students of closures and cancellations by 6:30 am through the communications department of each campus.

The memo follows widespread student outrage toward the school’s approach to weather-related closures and cancellations last winter — in particular, delayed notices to students and late closures relative to other universities in the Toronto area, as well as uncleared sidewalks. U of T reassures its students that it “will continue to listen to [the] community” as new information brings about opportunities for new policy and improvements.

Key changes to UTSG’s weather closure policy

The memo highlighted that the university will not only coordinate with other schools, but also with multiple transit systems when deciding whether to close the UTSG campus or not. In particular, U of T has committed to monitor the GO Train service and surrounding highways for closures and delays.

“We know that many members of our community face extended commute times to our campuses, especially in bad weather,” wrote U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church to The Varsity. “For that reason, efforts will be made to announce any cancellations or closures by 6:30am.”

Updates will be posted to each campus’ homepage and on social media. The university also reminded students that updates can be accessed from the new U of T alert system. Students can subscribe to the system and receive information on cancellations and closures through email or text message.

Campus closures and commuter students

In 2015, U of T participated in a study that focused on student transportation across 10 university and colleges called StudentMoveTO. “The population for postsecondary students is always underrepresented,” said Khandker Nurul Habib, an associate professor in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering at U of T and a co-applicant at StudentMoveTO, “because of very narrow population growth, and a significant portion of the student population lives in dorms and apartments, they are basically missed in terms of representation in regional household surveys.”

According to Habib, almost all participating schools allowed the study to access the entirety of its student population for random sampling, however, he claims that U of T only provided a limited sample.

“This survey is bold,” Habib said, “[it gives] a snapshot of your life… so it gives us information to do a lot of statistical exercises.”

“[This] can explain peoples and students’ reactions to different transportation systems.”

Comparing to other universities

U of T’s closure policy statement on its website notes that the school makes closure decisions with information from “University Operations and Real Estate Partnerships, Environment Canada, TTC, city and provincial police, and other relevant agencies and institutions, including [Toronto District School Board], Ryerson University, George Brown College and Sheridan College.”

Ryerson University decides campus and class closures through an internal assessment of weather conditions done by the director of integrated risk management advising the school’s vice-president, administration and finance, who, alongside the president to the provost and vice-president academic, will delegate the final decision.

OCAD University’s website claims that its weather policy is dependent on the school’s president or designate’s decision. George Brown’s website has no mention of its internal decision making procedure.

WTF is weather amnesia and how can art explain it?

On your way back from office hours, pop into an interdisciplinary and intergenerational art exhibit at the Jackman Humanities Building

WTF is weather amnesia and how can art explain it?

Weather Amnesia is an art exhibit on the top floor of the Jackman Humanities Building currently showcasing work by modern and classical artists at the intersection of science and artistic expression. The pieces are arranged on walls and bookshelves of the 10th-floor lounge and seminar room, more decor than formal gallery.

“We are very easy to forget — to deny the abundant evidence of changing environment,” said Yuluo Wei in an interview with The Varsity. She is the curator of Weather Amnesia and a Master of Visual Studies in Curatorial Studies student at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. Wei is critical of our modern indoor lives, especially in the urban environment, and she hopes this exhibit creates dialogue toward an awareness of our surroundings, toward noticing the weather.

In a 1922 oil painting by Graham Noble Norwell, sketches of a classical snowy Canadian landscape, ice over a lake, and a silver birch are grouped together. Around a corner hangs Lisa Hirmer’s photo series tracking the melting of snow in a test tube. Though both artists incorporate snow into their pieces, their artworks provide a stark example of the evolution of art from classical to modern times.

Another work includes a hygrothermograph, an analog measurement tool that reports temperature and humidity. A tablet with a live bird migration map is in another. A watercolour collage of a bird from a museum collection, by Florence Vale. Blocks of timber cut into a model of the Jackman Humanities Building. Abstract shapes in a big square inked in 1979, inspired by a Canadian winter.

There are two contemporary Canadian artists featured in the gallery. Lisa Hirmer has two pieces, the second being “Watching, White Ibis,” a letter to the migratory white ibis. Tania Kitchell has two pieces, one named “Weather Observations,” a diary of comments and measurements of weather by a lake. The other is Occupy, composed of 3D-printed plants that are invasive or alien to the arctic. The printed plants are not a perfect ratio to the living counterpart — for any visiting arctic plant experts.

To me, the title Weather Amnesia is a reminder; I personally don’t remember my elementary-school snow days, but my parents sometimes remark that there’s less snow falling nowadays. Kids in the 1990s must have had more snow than me, and I had more snow than the kids now. The oil painting is a quintessential Canadian snowy landscape, and older generations may relate to this more. Newcomers and youth may relate more to the six frames of melting snow. The printed plants are another guilty reminder; I barely recognize three out of the many species, save the dandelions and clovers.

But can you spot the Canadian Thistle, the Blue Eyed Grass? I think we all need this reminder lest we forget that the urban lifestyle we live is, for most of history, abnormal.

The artwork can leave viewers with important questions, but a block of wood labelled as laminated timber may not have as much face-value significance to the theme of the exhibit. The Quayside project, run by Sidewalk Labs, alongside University of Toronto’s own Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, will both have wooden skyscrapers made of the same laminated timber, a simple but high-tech building material.

Construction of these structures is fast, less noisy, and has no harmful chemical by-products. The sculpture of the Jackman Building was first modelled on a computer, and buildings have the same process but at a bigger scale.

Weather Amnesia will run Monday–Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm until June 26, 2020. It’s free and open to the public, but the seminar room space, a third of the exhibition, is sometimes booked for events.

UTM closing at 5:00 pm

Classes or events that start before 5:00 pm will end at 5:00 pm

UTM closing at 5:00 pm

Due to severe weather conditions, UTM will be closing at 5:00 pm today.

An email announcement was sent out to students shortly after 3:00 pm. All UTM classes, tutorials, labs, tests, meetings, and other on-campus activities are cancelled.

In addition, classes or events that start before 5:00 pm will end at 5:00 pm.

Shuttle buses between UTM and Sheridan College are also cancelled, as are all School of Continuing Studies classes.

This marks the fourth time the campus has been closed this year. UTSC and UTSG remain open.

Students upset by untimeliness of UTSG closure during winter storm, describe dangerous commutes

Upset students say that the decision to keep campus open endangers commuters

Students upset by untimeliness of UTSG closure during winter storm, describe dangerous commutes

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.

Miryam Kaduri, a 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 Kaduri 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.

The Breakdown: U of T policies behind cancelling classes

UTM, UTSC must give hours notice for evening cancellations, UTSG has no guidelines

The Breakdown: U of T policies behind cancelling classes

Toronto weathered a miserable and messy Monday as the city saw a record-breaking 19 centimetres of snowfall on January 28. Throughout the day, U of T’s three campuses closed or cancelled classes due to the weather. With temperatures expected to remain chilly, The Varsity took a look at how and when U of T campuses decide to close.

UTM

The first campus to take action at around 10:00 am, UTM announced on January 28 that it would be closing at 4:00 pm “due to worsening weather conditions.”

According to the campus’ website, notices for full-day or morning cancellations at UTM are posted by 6:00 am, with updates for evening classes and events generally made by 3:00 pm.

All decisions regarding class cancellations at UTM are informed by its chief administrative officer (CAO) and Campus Police, and made by its Vice-President & Principal. In the event of campus closure, decisions are also discussed with the Vice-President Human Resources & Equity.

Prior to Monday’s closure, UTM was last closed in April due to an ice storm.

According to UTM’s Weather Information page, aside from current and predicted weather conditions, factors considered before closing campus include the states of local roads, walkways, and transit operations, any closures of local and regional businesses and schools, and the consequences of closing campus.

Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories on January 28.

Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories on January 28. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

UTSC

Following suit less than two hours later, UTSC declared all classes and scheduled events on January 28 cancelled starting at 5:00 pm.

According to its severe weather guidelines, UTSC’s decisions for morning and evening classes are posted around 6:30 am and 4:15 pm respectively.

Cancellations at UTSC are also determined by its Vice-President & Principal based on advice from its CAO and Director of Campus Safety and Security. Closures are likewise discussed with the Vice-President Human Resources & Equity. Last April’s ice storm also saw UTSC close.

UTSG

While updates for UTM and UTSC evening classes were given with at least five-hours notice, classes at UTSG scheduled for after 6:00 pm were not cancelled until after 2:30 pm, with emails not sent until a few minutes before the hour.

According to the provost office’s policy on class cancellations, UTSG staff, faculty, and students should be alerted of morning and full-day cancellations or closures by 6:00 am.

The provost’s office gives no indication for how soon updates on evening classes can be expected.

Both the Vice-President & Provost and Vice-President Human Resources & Equity are involved in determining UTSG’s status under adverse weather conditions. Concerns from Campus Police and the Vice-President University Operations are also considered.

Freezing students walk through the wintery abyss on a cold and snowy day in Toronto.

Freezing students walk through the wintery abyss on a cold and snowy day in Toronto. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

In the event of a campus closure on any given day, including weekends, all on-campus activities and events are cancelled and all buildings are locked, with the exception of essential services such as campus security and residence-related services.

During class cancellations, all non-academic services remain operational. Proceedings of non-academic events and operating hours for campus facilities may vary at the discretion of their respective supervisors. Students who are unable to attend classes are advised to look through the syllabi of affected classes for policies on attendance and late or missed assignments and exams.

Of 16 other colleges and universities in southwestern Ontario affected, only Conestoga College, Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Guelph, and the University of Waterloo remained open on January 28.