On March 31, MSUM canceled school due to inclement weather, but the inclement weather never came. It was a snowless snow day.
This is a situation that, from the outside, looks like the result of administrator incompetence.
They canceled school because of snow, but there was no snow. They made the wrong decision. Simple, right?
Not quite. As students, it is often difficult for us to see how and why the university makes the decisions it does. In the absence of that knowledge, many seem to think President Szymanski decides simply by looking out of the window at her house.
I assure you, that is not the case. These decisions are not made capriciously.
President Szymanski, Provost Anne Blackhurst and Jan Mahoney, vice president for finance and administration, collectively make the decision to postpone or cancel school. As soon as the potential for hazardous weather arises, they begin conferring with each other.
Special attention is paid to high amounts of snowfall and low wind chills because these are the most dangerous weather factors.
Szymanski, Blackhurst and Mahoney also consult with administration at NDSU because NDSU hosts the North Dakota State Climatologist. Even though we have the best localized weather information possible, nature is unpredictable.
Snow days can reek havoc on class pacing, and sometimes material has to be eliminated from a syllabus because there simply isn’t time. Snow days mean canceled events, changed plans and, for parents of young children, a rush to find last-minute child care.
All of these things are unfortunate and inconvenient, but in the case of bad weather, safety must always outweigh convenience.
The decision our administration made to close school on March 31 reflects their concern for the safety of everyone on campus, especially given that almost 75 percent of MSUM’s student body lives off campus, and many students, faculty and staff commute from well outside of the Fargo-Moorhead area.
For me, the snow day brought an issue I’d been vaguely considering into sharp focus: on everything from snow days to staff cuts, many students do not understand who makes decisions at our university, how decisions are made and the reasons behind them.
It is easy to become frustrated and send out an angry Facebook status at what we might perceive as incompetence. This anger is, at best, unhelpful and at worst, perpetuating the negative public image MSUM has garnered over the last several months. This anger perpetuates misinformation and low campus morale.
I have found an almost fool-proof solution (for me) to avoid this anger: asking questions.
In preparation for this editorial, I emailed some questions to David Wahlberg, the executive director of marketing and communications. Wahlberg responded within six minutes, asked for some time to confirm some information and sent that information to me first thing the next morning.
While six minutes is an exceptionally fast response time, this prompt attention to student requests is consistent with my experiences with the faculty and administration at MSUM. When I ask for information, I receive it.
Even if the answer isn’t what I want to hear, I can at least understand where the administration is coming from as they make the decisions that shape our university.
After one of the recent presidential candidate forums, student body president Kevin Struxness approached me to discuss the questions I posed to candidates. I never met Mr. Struxness before, but he was eager to provide information, receive feedback from me and to encourage more questions.
He assured me that Student Senate was actively pursuing student engagement so that the administration and the student body can all be on the same page.
If you feel like bad decisions are being made, or even if you just want to know how things work, ask someone. Ask your teachers. Ask your advisors. Ask someone in the student senate.