The University’s response to Wednesday’s snowstorm points to administrative strengths
Clumsy authors often use weather to bombastically set a scene’s mood or signify a character’s emotions. With Wednesday’s snowstorm, the University may well be in a cheap paperback. The school is currently bracing for the effects of across-the-board federal spending cuts after legislators embarrassingly failed to reach a budget compromise last week. The sequester will have a disproportionate impact on the Medical School, but all of the University’s research centers will suffer as federal agencies upon which they rely face budget shortfalls. Two key sources of research funding—the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health—will be forced to reduce the level of support they give the University. The sequester, like the snowfall, settled over Charlottesville to hamper the University’s operations.
The snow is also appropriate symbolism on a smaller level. Re-emerging tensions between Rector Helen Dragas and University President Teresa Sullivan, recently uncovered by the release of emails between the two, suggest that the rector’s attitude toward the president remains icier than the 35-degree weather students woke up to this morning.
Though some areas of the University’s leadership are fraught with friction, the school’s effective response to Wednesday’s snowstorm points to administrative strengths. The University’s management of students affected by the inclement weather indicates that the school’s student-affairs leadership remains strong.
The University announced at 6 a.m. that classes were cancelled. Officials posted a message on the University’s homepage. Dean of Students Allen Groves also cannily disseminated the news via his popular Twitter account. Though administrators sent no University-wide email announcing the class cancellation—an oversight on the school’s part—Housing & Residence Life officials were awake and sending emails around 5:30 a.m., when energy substations serving first-year dorms blew out, leaving the residence halls without power. Officials immediately dispatched Dominion Power and utility crews to investigate the outages.
The University was able to keep Newcomb Hall from losing electrical service, and the Central Grounds location quickly became a haven for cold, hungry students. The University also kept Runk and Observatory Hill dining halls open, which helped allay concerns from first-year students and those living nearby. All the while, officials took care to post information about closings and outages on virginia.edu and effectively disseminated the same information through the University’s Twitter account.
The heavy snowfall could have caused panic and unrest—and, with less effective student-affairs leadership, it may have. But instead, students built snow forts (and, in Brown College, a snow dragon) and pelted each other with wet snowballs on the Lawn. Some broke out into impromptu song on the Rotunda steps. The University’s capable response to Wednesday’s weather event shows the school’s devotion to its students.
Now, to weather the sequester.