Students react to university’s weather decisions

Posted on Feb 23 2015 - 9:53am by Logan Kirkland
Car of Jamie Hill, junior pharmacy major from Hernando, Miss., is seen Friday morning, February, 20, 1015. It flipped because of icy roads off of Anderson Road. (Courtesy of Jaime Hill)

Car of Jamie Hill, junior pharmacy major from Hernando, Miss., is seen Friday morning, February, 20, 1015. It flipped because of icy roads off of Anderson Road. (Courtesy of Jaime Hill)

As icy weather continues to affect driving conditions in Oxford, students have begun to criticize university officials’ decision to remain open.

Jamie Hill, a junior pharmacy major, thought keeping campus open Friday led to very unsafe driving conditions for students who commute.

“The roads were terrible,” Hill said. “I had to defrost my car for almost 30 minutes because the rain kept falling and refreezing on it.”

Hill was driving to his 10 a.m. class when he hit a small patch of ice on Anderson Road. He used more caution as he continued on with his drive but later,  he hit another slippery patch of black ice.

“I tried to slow down, and there was so much ice I just fishtailed,” Hill said. “I hit the curb onto the sidewalk and then hit the wall at Lafayette Place and flipped over.”

Hill walked away from the accident with only a few minor injuries but feels the situation could have been avoided if classes were cancelled or at least delayed until the weather improved.

“They can’t get it right 100 percent of the time,” Hill said. “After hearing about all of the wrecks, I don’t think they should have kept it open.”

Ben House, junior political science major, said he was very surprised Friday when he woke up to find classes were not cancelled and still had to drive to campus.

“I encountered a lot of black ice on the roads Friday morning,” House said. “I even slid off the road onto the shoulder on Anderson because my tires lost traction on the asphalt.”

House said it was not fair to expect students who depend on the O.U.T. bus to come to class because the route was suspended. He was also very concerned that pedestrians, who were walking in front of cars at crosswalks, would be hit because of possible ice.

“I’m not sure who makes the executive decisions on whether or not the roads are safe, but whoever did was very negligent,” House said. “Overall, I was really disappointed in the university’s decision to have class. They took on a huge liability risk that I don’t think they were fully aware of.”

The University of Mississippi’s Crisis Action Team constantly monitors for various threats or incidents that could potentially occur on campus. The team then interacts with an incident response team, which is in charge of responding to the event and getting campus operations back in order.

Noel Wilkin, associate provost and member of the Crisis Action Team, said because safety is the most important factor, the team has a close relationship with both the county and city Emergency Management Administrators.

“Any time that anybody has an accident, no matter what day it is, my heart goes out to those individuals,” Wilkin said. “We want all of our community to be safe.”

University police chief Calvin Sellers, Dean of Students Melinda Sutton, Director of Physical Plant Ashton Pearson, Chief Communications Officer Tom Eppes and Wilkin are the five individuals who make up the Crisis Action Team.

The team receives daily updates, giving them access to a seven-day projection of the weather.

“It’s a focus of the crisis action team to monitor the weather,” Wilkin said.“As any event starts to evolve, we step up our monitoring, and we start to follow systems as they develop.”

If there is a possibility that campus will be effected by harsh weather conditions, the team will meet before the event occurs. As the event begins to unfold, the team looks over a checklist that covers all pieces of information required to fill out a recommendation form for closure.

“Even with the most sophisticated technology available, they are still just predictions being made,” Wilkin said.

The O.U.T. bus is administered through the city, meaning the university is not in charge of their operations.

“That was a system decision that they made and then called us and told us that’s what they were doing,” Wilkin said.

Wilkin said the decision to keep the university open was the best decision based on all of the information collected, saying the impact of the weather would be minimal.

“I ask them when we interact with officials ‘do you see any reason why we would adjust our operation schedule?’ and each one of them said no,” Wilkin said.

After a decision is made on campus operations, the team continues to monitor the weather conditions and work to make adjustments if needed.

“It’s not something that we make a decision, and we just go about our business,” Wilkin said. “This is something that we track constantly as the thing evolves.”

People criticized the university and questioned why they continued to operate with the normal hours when ice started to become visible. Wilkin said once a city and campus is already operating it is better to have people staying where they are.

“Had the university issued a close statement upon getting icy road reports, we would have sent our entire community onto those roads,” Wilkin said. “That would have been a more detrimental decision to make at that time.”

He said the team evaluated the conditions and were seeing reports of some ice develop in few areas, but there were large reports saying the campus was still safe to operate.

“We have to base decisions on the best possible information and predictions that we have,” Wilkin said. “The Crisis Action Team is always looking for opportunities for improvement.”

Logan Kirkland