LTE: Cancelation policy is classist



Political communication major Hannah Gregor pens a Letter to the Editor discussing the University’s weather cancelation policy and the potential impact it might have on lower-income students and students with disabilities.

Letter to the Editor

Editor’s Note: This Letter to the Editor was submitted by political communication major Hannah Gregor. 

The UNI policy for delays and cancellations states, “It is a basic premise of this policy that University faculty, staff, and students shall have the opportunity to make their own decision about reporting to work or class with due consideration for travel safety conditions.” However, this statement rests on the assumption that students and staff have free choice in regards to their decision and safety.

Many professors have attendance policies for the classroom that do not see transportation issues as an excused absence. In weather such as we have had in the past two weeks, it is very possible for a student to need to miss three classes, resulting in their grade being lowered. Students must negotiate their safety for the sake of passing the class, which in itself is a financial decision. When school is not cancelled or delayed for severe weather, students are coerced into risking their safety to attend class to ensure their grade will not be lowered, even though the ability to show up to class is not a reflection of the knowledge that student has in the course.

Low-income students are more impacted by this policy because winter gear is expensive and when deciding between food and winter clothing, the choice inevitably is food. This is especially problematic when the University’s latest survey on food security found 51 percent of UNI students having varying levels of food insecurity. When the University tells students to “dress warm,” they ignore the high price that layers come at.

Even further, when the University doesn’t have sidewalks plowed and salted on campus throughout the day, they prevent students with disabilities from going to class. If the university wishes to tout their work on diversity, they need to walk the walk and change the policy to help low-income and/or students with disabilities. The administration needs to either change their policy to allow students who miss class due to severe weather be an excused absence, or more regularly cancel classes in severe weather.

Staff on UNI’s campus are also negatively affected by UNI’s cancellation policies. Non-Exempt staff are required to show up to work regardless of the University’s decision to cancel class. If they “choose” not to go to work for safety precautions, they must “elect to use vacation, compensatory time or leave without pay or request to make up the missed time within the same work week (Sunday to Saturday).”

When weather is so unsafe for students or faculty to feel comfortable attending class, are essential employees really so essential they must risk their lives to come to campus? The Rod Library has a policy in which essential staff members must come to work. Are the day-to-day functions of a librarian staff really essential for our campus to continue functioning?

The UNI 4.07 Weather/Working Conditions policy gambles with the lives of people living and working on campus. They argue that we all have a “choice” to make in regards to braving hazardous weather, but once we realize these decisions have financial consequences, we must realize these choices are an illusion meant to serve the purpose of allowing the university to not face the repercussions of putting university staff and students at risk. The Provost says we have a choice, but that ignores the inherent coercion in policy 4.07.