Fredericton students upset over university campuses remaining open during snow storm

Students at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) and St. Thomas University (STU) in Fredericton have expressed safety concerns following the universities’ decisions to remain open Thursday during a snow storm.

A tweet from  fourth year St. Thomas student Paige Kynock sparked debate over whether classes and midterms should have been cancelled.  Kynock noted on Twitter that New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) cancelled its classes, but she still had to drive in from Oromocto to write a midterm.

Following her post, she received a response from UNB Fredericton on Twitter with only a GIF of a crying toddler.

The university’s response quickly received attention and raised questions about student safety.

In an email response to Global News, University of New Brunswick spokesperson David Stonehouse said the safety of students, faculty and staff on campus is a priority. He said it’s also important to make “every effort to minimize the impact on all individuals.”

Stonehouse said the campus’s facilities management team develops a storm plan based on forecasted snowfall times and factors in what equipment and personnel are available to clear roads, parking lots, and walkways.  University officials then make a decision on whether to close the school or not.

“Our security and traffic teams are also in close contact with Fredericton City Police and Fredericton City Transit, whom we will also consult if needed.,” Stonehouse said. He added that weather-related weekday closure decisions are made before 6 a.m.

Stonehouse said if students don’t feel safe travelling to campus they can stay home, and while students are encouraged to attend classes if they’re able, instructors are “encouraged to exercise sensitivity to safety issues when classes are held during severe weather.”

Students who are unable to make it to class should let their professor know as soon as possible and if severe weather occurs during exams, students who can’t make it can make an application to the Registrar’s Office, as outlined in the university’s storm closure policy.

St. Thomas University spokesperson Jeffrey Carleton said their campus has a similar policy. Carleton said more snowfall occurred Thursday than initial predicted.

“Sometimes it’s easy to make the decision when it’s a big storm like Monday [but] the storm [Thursday], it’s a bit of a borderline kind of decision,” Carleton said.

While STU was technically open he said there were 20 professors who did cancel classes.  A new storm cancellation policy was brought into affect in December.  Carleton said it gives more power to instructors and students to decide when they’re able to attend classes during extreme weather events.

Kynock, who initially posted the tweet, told Global News via Twitter that she did end up going to class.

“Many of my classes have attendance marks that you will lose without a doctor’s note. I also had a midterm worth 20% per cent of my mark that I couldn’t miss,” she said.

“I feel that both schools should have had a late start. I honestly don’t feel like it was safe for students to be there. We were told if we couldn’t make it to send our profs an email, but for some of us that wasn’t an option,” Kynock wrote.

“We expect our professors to make accommodations for students who can’t make it to campus,” Carleton said — including during midterms.

“So while we make the decision [to stay open] there will be times when it’s a borderline decision, or students may disagree [but] they have the power to make a decision to do something that if they feel it’s not safe for them to travel to campus, we don’t expect them to do so,” Carleton said.

UNB response to Twitter

The university later issued a tweet that said the GIF was not meant to be disrespectful.

In an email to Global News Stonehouse issued the following response regarding the incident:

“Reaction to storms and the subsequent decisions made regarding university closures always generate a lot of feedback and our social media team members do their best to answer all inquiries and provide information as requested.  We try to keep the tone of our accounts light and conversational, even when conversations are challenging.  As stated on social media, the tweet was not meant to upset anyone, but rather it was posted in an attempt to make light of the situation and to express that we are all sad about the snow, given this week’s extraordinary weather events. If it was misinterpreted in any way, we apologize, it was certainly not intended to offend anyone.”

Public Relations Consultant and Red Deer College Media Studies and Professional Communications instructor Neil Levine said there’s a “fine balance” between being witty and conversational, and dealing with serious issues such as student safety.

“When it comes to a question of safety you have to be really careful,” Levine said.

He said the GIF could be perceived as calling Kynock a “crying baby” because the initial tweet lacked context.

He added that while social media is a great tool for connecting people, it doesn’t offer the context that comes with being able to read body language, and that the true meanings of messages can get lost in translation.

Levine also said that there can often be “disproportionate reactions to small things” on social media because everybody has the ability to see it and comment on it quickly.

While he believes it’s good the university acknowledged the situation, he said it wasn’t a “true” apology.

“An apology always, always, always is ‘I’m sorry period.  Not ‘I’m sorry you misinterpreted it’, Levine said.

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