Snow woes: Class continuation threatens safety

If you ever wondered what it would be like to slosh through the Dead Sea, you need only walk around Pittsburgh for a bit. The salt on the roads and sidewalks, a byproduct of the recent onslaught of winter weather, is turning pant legs everywhere into crunchy litmus tests.

Yes, salt is the staple of winter weather safety, and Carnegie Mellon apparently has plenty of it. Any campus tour guide will tell you that the last time Carnegie Mellon had to cancel classes — and the only time in the preceding 10 years — was when they ran out of salt in the 2002–2003 school year. How this marketing tactic works is puzzling: Isn’t half the fun of winter the snow days you get? Carnegie Mellon’s administration has a history of not canceling classes; legend has it that during the blizzard of 1993, the Governor of Pennsylvania called Carnegie Mellon’s president and threatened to send the National Guard to ensure the school’s closure.

This semester has certainly been a whirlwind of winter weather, with over a week of continuous snow, followed by a week of negative temperatures, followed by snow and ice, followed by more negative temperatures. Despite the fact that the temperatures, with windchill, were enough to cause frostbite on the walk to Scaife, professors and students soldiered on. Classes continued.

That was fine, but this past week the snow and ice came, and Civil Emergencies were declared in the state of Pennsylvania. Walking around campus was brutal: Sidewalks were unplowed and turning to brown, slippery slush, and the entrances to almost all of the buildings were slush marshes that even the most agile puddle-dodger couldn’t dodge. Every Pittsburgh public school was closed, including the University of Pittsburgh, and some stores around the area were closing early, too. Classes continued.

Then, Carnegie Mellon took action: The university cancelled the shuttle and escort services. An e-mail notification was sent to inform students that the services were being shut down for the night, and apparently we should have been glad that the school didn’t want us to be put in the danger of fishtailing, spinning, and hydroplaning around Pittsburgh. But, classes continued.

Administration ignored a good portion of the safety issue — students walking to and from class from up Forbes, up Beeler, down Craig, across Fifth — by not cancelling classes. Students were still required to trek to uncancelled classes along busy roads, putting them in danger of getting hit by vehicles that clearly had no control. Night classes especially put students in dangerous positions by requiring them to brave walks to and from campus amid the worsening road conditions and subjecting them to possible assault and robbery.

Thanks to night classes pressing on, many students discovered how to perfectly steady themselves by grabbing onto the nearest stable object: a bench, a garbage can, a lamppost. It was easy to slip on sidewalks and roads, and even easier to fall onto the laptop hanging off our shoulders.

Carnegie Mellon, if you’re going to cancel one service, make sure to cancel everything that the service affects — ensure our safety all the way. If it’s not about our safety, at least remember that we’d enjoy a little snow break just like the rest of Pittsburgh did.