Flaky start to semester proves challenging for students, faculty

The usually busy Boston Ave. remained empty as shops closed for storm Juno. Ethan Chan / The Tufts Daily

Most people can appreciate a day off, and usually professors can condense their lectures and adjust their syllabi to compensate for missed class time; however, a total of six university closings so far this semester — five of which were class days — has meant that this semester has had a particularly slow and sporadic academic start.

A number of classes have only convened a couple of times so far this semester. Sophomore Jordan Rosenthal-Kay, a student in Associate Professor of Anthropology Stephen Bailey’s course “Extreme Environments: Human Adaptability to Novel Habitats” (ANTH 042), explained that because the class is only held on Mondays, it has met just once so far.

“The class is way behind, and I have yet to feel what my workload is going to be like for the semester,” he said. “It’s strange knowing that some classes are having midterms and mine hasn’t moved very far through the syllabus.”

After so many snow days, students and faculty alike are wondering how the university will deal with the missed class time. According to Lecturer in the Department of Classics Anne Mahoney, who is also co-chair of the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), the EPC is now planning to craft a proposal for makeup days that they will present to the faculty next Wednesday for a vote.

Mahoney said that whatever the proposal will be, the sheer amount of missed days will likely make any solution a difficult one to reach.

“This has surely never been done before,” Mahoney said.  “Although a couple of ideas have been floated, there are complications and logistical problems with all of them, so we’re going to end up with some sort of messy compromise.”

Another concern is that a month into the semester, students are still unfamiliar with some of their classes. American Sign Language and the Deaf Community (CD 124) is split into a Monday culture lecture and a Tuesday language class, each with a distinct professor and syllabus, according to sophomore Amy Bu. Since the professor who teaches on Monday is an adjunct lecturer whose schedule cannot accommodate Tufts’ Monday schedule on Thursday, the Monday section has still not met as of this week, according to Bu.

Bu, like many Tufts students, is feeling unenthused about the time off and frustrated with the lack of class time this semester.

“[I feel] bummed,” Bu said. “I actually want to learn things because it’s a high demand class and I went out of my way to sign up for it.”

Sophomore Clare Blackwell said that two of her classes have only met once this semester, and echoed Bu’s sentiments.

“I’m really frustrated, but at the same time there isn’t much I can do about it,” Blackwell said. “The university has to close in certain circumstances and I understand that, but I still feel like I’m wasting a significant part of my semester sitting around.”

With some classes only having met once or twice, the upperclassman course drop deadline originally scheduled for Feb. 18 was looking as though it might not give students enough time to become acquainted with their courses and make informed decisions.

In response, Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate President Robert Joseph contacted Mahoney and Professor of Mathematics Montserrat Teixidor i Bigas, who are the co-chairs of the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), and proposed an extension, according to Mahoney.

Mahoney said that the job of the EPC, which is made of up students, faculty and deans, is to establish teaching policies for the School of Arts, Sciences and Engineering. The group looks at an issue and crafts a proposal for the AS&E faculty to vote on at a regular meeting.

After Joseph’s proposal, the committee quickly decided to support the extension; however, since the next faculty meeting is not until Feb. 25, the group bypassed the AS&E voting process. After consulting with the academic deans, they decided to officially extend the drop deadline to Feb. 25, according to Mahoney.

“It was also not a very controversial proposal. Once the TCU pointed out the problem, we all agreed that moving the drop date was fair and appropriate, and we were confident that other faculty members would agree,” Mahoney said.

Although Tufts has had its fair share of snow days, this is the first time the university has changed the drop deadline, according to Mahoney.

“As far as I know, it hasn’t been done before,” she said. “It probably hasn’t been necessary before. Nobody can remember a semester when we’ve missed more than about three days of classes, and certainly not all bunched together at the start of term like this semester.”

This unprecedented series of weather events has repeatedly left Tufts little choice but to close. According to Director of Emergency Management Geoffrey Bartlett, who is also the deputy director of Public and Environmental Safety, the Office Of Emergency Management (OEM) monitors the storm with reports from the National Weather Service (NWS). When the storm is predicted to be severe enough the OEM can decide to close campus the day before.

In cases in which severity is more unclear, a judgment must be made in the early morning. The OEM coordinates with Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) and Facilities Services to evaluate existing conditions, and after information from weather reports and statements from civil authorities on developments like school closings and parking bans is taken into account, a decision is made.

“When they’re confident in a high-impact winter storm, we may be able to make a decision fairly early, but if there’s uncertainty in the forecast we’ll assess conditions in the early morning hours,” Bartlett said.

According to CNN, 95 inches of snow have already been recorded in Boston this winter, and the Tufts OEM has commented that the city is on track for the snowiest winter on record. Preliminary climatological data from the National Weather Service (NWS) has reported that Boston has shattered records for the most snow in four-day, 20-day and 30-day periods.

According to professor of Judaic Studies and former University Provost Sol Gittleman, the university was closed for an entire week in 1978 under the Massachusetts Governor’s orders after a 27-inch snowfall in the Boston area.

“We were going around with skis!” he told the Daily in an email.

Since 1978, there have been few times that Tufts has been closed for multiple days in a row, according to Gittleman, an occurrence that OEM calls “unprecedented.”