Hurricane Sandy has resulted in hazardous winter conditions across the state, meaning many school-aged children are home for the day — unless they're students at the state's two largest universities.
Both Marshall University and West Virginia University did not cancel or delay classes at their main campuses in Huntington and Morgantown, leading some students to question the schools' priorities. Ashley Herrald, a senior public relations major at Marshall, commutes to campus from her home in Wayne. Despite driving a four-wheel drive with new tires, Herrald said she slid her way to class the morning of Oct. 30 so she could turn in a paper.
"I had a paper due today, and I emailed my professor saying the roads were bad and asked if I could email it," she said. "He said no if I wanted all the points possible. So I slid the whole way to class and was 15 minutes late. But I got to turn in my paper."
Much of Marshall's student population is made up of commuters. Students from Putnam, Wayne and Lincoln counties in West Virginia and border counties in Ohio and Kentucky drive to class each morning. Herrald and Marcus Constantino, a junior journalism major from Bluefield, both said they think university officials don't consider commuter students when they decide to remain open despite hazardous weather.
"Marshall has a large commuter student base, but I feel that these students are often left out of consideration when it comes to school delays or closures," Constantino said. "Many students come from Wayne and Putnam counties, which are taking a bigger hit from the storm. Having classes on a day like this endangers those students and faculty."
Marshall did cancel classes at the South Charleston, Teays Valley and Beckley campuses. According to the school's inclement weather policy, the main campus generally does not cancel or delay classes.
"In those instances when it is necessary to alter the schedule in response to weather conditions, every effort will be made to notify all those affected — students, faculty, staff and the general public — as expeditiously and as comprehensively as possible," the policy reads.
Marshall's senior vice president for academic affairs and the senior vice president for finance and administration make the decision on closures and delays. They both consult with other officials, including the university president, before making the final decision.
WVU's policy is a little bit different. Like Marshall, WVU attempts to stick as closely to the regular schedule as possible, however the president of the university can close all or parts of the school if necessary.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has declared a state of emergency in West Virginia. However, that doesn't mean any higher education institution must close. According to John Bolt, university relations director at WVU, the Higher Education Policy Commission has advised colleges and universities to make their own decisions.
"HEPC has advised that, even when the governor issues a state of emergency, institutions can make their own decision at the local level based on weather and road conditions and the advice of local emergency officials," Bolt said.
Several activities scheduled at WVU for Oct. 30 were canceled or postponed because of inclement weather, including men's soccer, women's exhibition basketball game, lectures, signings and Mountaineer Week events.
Although those activities have been canceled or postponed, Bolt said the university encourages students and faculty to use their best judgment when deciding to come to class or work.
"We are always proactive in encouraging students and employees to use their best judgment about traveling when conditions warrant," Bolt said. "For example, we began putting out those messages early yesterday and continue to be aggressive in getting that message across. Faculty also know to be lenient and reasonable about class make-up and assignments."
Bolt said the roads and sidewalks in and around campus are clear and operations are continuing as normal.
Just a few miles south in Fairmont, university officials at Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community and Technical College will close both campuses at 4 p.m. Oct. 30. Like WVU, Fairmont encourages students and faculty to use their best judgment.
"Students and employees must use good judgment in deciding if they can arrive to campus safely when weather is unfavorable," Fairmont's inclement weather policy reads. "Faculty are asked, within reason, to provide flexibility to commuter students who miss class do to unfavorable weather."
Classes scheduled to meet Oct. 30 at several other colleges and universities, including West Virginia State University, Kanawha Community and Technical College, Bluefield State College, WVU-Tech, Concord University, Shepherd University and Davis and Elkins College also have been canceled.