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Classes cancelled?

Although Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) declared a state of emergency in Virginia yesterday because of a storm that unexpectedly dumped more than eight inches of snow on the Commonwealth, University officials decided to hold classes and conduct business as usual.

The snowstorm quickly made its way to the East Coast, dumping more than 10 inches of snow in the Richmond area, 14 inches at the North Carolina border, and shutting down the federal government in Washington, D.C.

Although climatologists said this was the worst storm to hit the East Coast since 1996, Charlottesville accumulations reached only eight inches.

Leonard W. Sandridge, University executive vice president and chief operating officer, said he made the decision to keep the University open after consulting with associates and checking with weather reports, the police department, the transportation department and facilities operations.

"We did have some complaints [yesterday], but when you consider that we have 18,000 students and 11,000 full-time employees, the number of inconveniences and complaints were relatively small," Sandridge said.

He said he was at work by 5 a.m. yesterday morning to evaluate the situation. A decision had to be made early in the day because many employees have to be at work by 7 a.m.

"I don't make a decision about weather without being here myself," he added.

Employees who had transportation difficulties were given a grace period of two hours to get to work on time, Sandridge said.

He said the University was prepared to house anyone having trouble getting back home at the Medical Center overnight.

Although making a decision about whether to open the University in inclement weather is difficult and complicated, he added that he is confident he acted appropriately. "There's no perfect answer," Sandridge said.

"We had a lot of people who would have preferred not to come to work and would have preferred not to have come to class, but they did," he said. "Our approach has been to provide as many services as we can recognizing that many students live on Grounds."

University spokeswoman Louise Dudley said she remembers the University closing because of inclement weather only once in the last decade.

Sandridge said the University would cancel classes in cases of "excess depths of snow" where workers were unable to clear parking lots or operate buses.

Despite the University's decision to stay open, some professors were unable to hold classes.

Assoc. Environmental Science Prof. Thomas Smith said he decided to cancel his morning class after he "started to shovel snow from [his] driveway and decided that it was a wasted effort."

But Philosophy Prof. John Simmons chose to hold his first class because "being a large lecture class, it was likely the students would live on campus" and would have little difficulty showing up.

Still, Simmons said he was surprised so many students attended class.

"It was just [about as many people in attendance as] when people will skip class about a month from now," he said.

But he added that he cancelled the Law School class he teaches later in the day because it "would have been empty."

Simmons said it is more difficult for graduate or law students to make it to class because most of them live off Grounds and drive cars to Grounds.

Second-year College student Kevin Clouther said he had mixed reactions to two of his classes being cancelled.

"I was kind of happy because I wanted to go sled-riding, but I was also kind of pissed because I was about ready to bust out Virgil in my Epic class," Clouther said.

He said he understands some professors' decisions to cancel class because of the conditions on the roads.

"I wouldn't want them dying to teach me," he added.

University Lands Superintendent Jeff Ertel said about 100 University Facilities Management workers started clearing the roads and pathways yesterday morning as soon as the snow began accumulating.

Ertel said he expects the workers to continue clearing the pathways for the next several days because of high winds and drifting snow.

Although all of their work is needed right now, he said it is unfortunate that workers are doing "all this work for something that's going to melt in a week anyway"


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