President Jem Spectar and the Pitt-Johnstown administration purposefully put student lives in danger on Tuesday, March 20. That Tuesday, all UPJ students and staff received an email regarding a “Campus Closure Announcement” detailing that all campus activities would be canceled after 4 p.m.
Yes, it is true that we received a lot of snow and the roads became dangerous, but nowhere close to how dangerous the roads were the morning and the rest of March 21. UPJ students started to notice surrounding school districts and colleges were canceling classes, or at least giving two-hour delays Tuesday night.
To begin, Penn-Highlands and Richland High School, two schools who share a public road with our university, canceled because of the dangers of driving to their campuses, which are located right next to ours. Not to mention, Gov. Tom Wolf put the Commonwealth into a State of Emergency because of this winter storm. Students and professors alike, patiently awaited an email that never came. No two-hour delay. No cancellation. Just an email, received at 11:51 a.m. Wednesday, claiming that administration was planning on putting more maintenance staff on the clock to battle the endless surge of snow.
Now, this opinion piece isn’t meant to attack those maintenance crews. I want to thank all of you for doing your best on little sleep and in such treacherous conditions. This piece is voicing my anger and frustration at the administration, the ones who carelessly put commuting students and professors on roads in completely unsafe conditions, because people were injured trying to get to campus. We’re all paying for our education, and we value that. I’m happy to have professors that are eager enough to commute, sometimes over an hour, to ensure I receive a thorough education to prepare me for the real world, but the fact of the matter is, we should value our safety before our education. I understand that it looks bad when a university cancels everything the night before and wakes up to find a simple dusting (UPJ on Wednesday, February 7th), but this was a completely different storm. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a majority of professors canceled class in objection to the school’s reckless disregard of student, professor and faculty safety.
Even on campus, students didn’t feel like enough was done. Those unlucky enough that had to trudge through the 16 inches of snow that Richland received and attend class quickly realized that not much had been done to combat the ever-growing piles of snow. Pathways were untreated and unplowed. The streets and parking lots were one big ice rink covered by a sheet of deep, thick snow. But why? If administration really put extra maintenance staff on duty, why weren’t these “priority walkways and parking lots,” that were addressed in an email sent to the UPJ population on January 29, 2018, taken care of? Why wasn’t action taken on dates prior to try and expedite the removal of snow? If these precautions were taken, why didn’t they work? These are the questions I, Wyatt Deutsch, a student leader on this campus, want to ask the administration. Why were students’ lives put at risk? Was it because a big donor was speaking on campus? Is that why all students were emailed a “REMINDER – Global Impact Series and Talk THIS EVENING” on Wednesday, March 21 at 3:01 p.m? If it was, that’s a poor excuse for a lack of responsibility from the administration. Other events were canceled that Wednesday. Yona Harvey’s poetry reading was canceled because she couldn’t make it to our campus. Every single Pitt campus cancelled their plans to send buses to Pitt Day in Harrisburg because the roads were deemed unsafe to drive on, but closing the campus down because of a single speaker was too much to ask for? I’m not writing this because of a missed snow day that I could’ve cared less about, but I understand the importance of recognizing donors and alumni. However, if this current student body ever wants to become future alumni or donors, our safety needs to come first.
I ask the administration for an explanation, an explanation I doubt they will be able to give to an overwhelming number of students who are seriously disappointed in the administrators’ poor decision making.