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Polar vortex plummets temperatures

by Courtney Deeren - Copy Editor
Thu, Feb 7th 2019 01:45 pm

A cold snap swept the nation last week causing the northern part of the United States to experience dangerously low temperatures. The polar vortex was the cause of 23 deaths, according to CNN. Locally, temperatures were predicted to dip into single digits with some areas calling for negative temps. Combine the already low temps with the wind chill and the Rochester area was scheduled to feel roughly negative 25 degrees. 

With the concern for the severe cold, students across The College at Brockport campus received an email from Vice President for University Relations David Mihalyov stating that at the time of the email, Brockport’s classes would go on as scheduled. The email, which was sent out Wednesday, Jan. 30 caused quite a disturbance among students. Many wondered why campus officials would only be warning students of the cold and advising them how to stay safe in conditions that could possibly lead to frostbite if skin was exposed to the temps for extended periods of time, instead of cancelling class. Many people, including friends and family of students, agreed with the students concerns. However, some didn’t see the point in cancelling classes. 

“You’re all adults, your workplace won’t cancel work when it’s too cold,” Brockport resident Tammy Smith said. 

Still, Wednesday found many students missing from their classes. Students with commutes found it unsafe to drive due to the weather and those living on campus didn’t want to put themselves at risk, not to mention students with children whose schools were closed and were unable to find last minute accomodations. 

Highschools and elementary schools in the Rochester area started closing late Tuesday night. Many, such as Byron Bergen, announced they would remain closed until Friday morning. Even nearby community colleges such as Monroe Community College and Genesee Community College cancelled classes. 

Still, Brockport stood strong against weather warnings and waited until the very last moment to cancel Thursday’s classes. 

A few students responded to Brockport’s unwillingness to close via email. Anyone who received the initial email from Mihalyov also received a response from Jesus Cabrera urging Brockport to cancel classes and protect it’s students. A select few may have also received a response email from another student at the college, Zach Kornberg. When asked about the email, Kornberg prepared a statement to address his motivations. Kornberg immediately cited his passion for philosophy and his inspiration from several great philosophers as a contribution to his response. 

Kornberg saw this as the perfect scenario for him to practice his beliefs. 

“I saw the circumstances under this extreme weather as an opportunity to put my convictions into practice,” Kornberg wrote. “When I began writing the email, I knew I had to construct a deductive argument in favor of my position of closing down classes. Thus, I put into use (what happens to be the most common form of argumentation) modus ponens.” 

Kornberg uses this model to form his argument as to why classes should be cancelled. 

“If students are being put at jeopardy of bodily harm and students will be penalized for not attending classes on rational grounds then it is unethical for classes to be in session,” Kornberg wrote. “Students are being put at jeopardy of bodily harm and students will be penalized for not attending classes on rational grounds. Therefore, it is unethical for classes to be in session.” 

Kornberg reiterated in his statement what he initially put in his reply to the original email.

“According to the U.S Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, ‘wind chills of 15 under zero is the danger zone; at this temperature, frostbite sets in at the 30 minute mark, approaching five minutes at under 50 degrees below,’” Kornberg wrote. 

He also brought attention to those with respiratory issues or elderly people as they may have particular difficulty in the severe cold. 

One recipient of Kornberg’s email was the sender of the original email, Mihalyov. Mihalyov explained there is more that goes in to cancelling classes and completely shutting down campus than most consider. 

“Those involved in making the decision to close include the Chief of University Police, the college’s Emergency Manager, the Provost and the head of Facilities,” Mihalyov wrote in an email. “If specific actions, such as cancelling classes, are recommended, the Provost will call the President to make this recommendation. If the President concurs, then the message is spread.”

He went on to explain that a range of factors are considered, including national weather service briefings, road conditions based on consultations with local government officials, and exposure time for frostbite. When asked about how rare it is for Brockport to cancel classes, Mihalyov wrote that, in the 10 years he has been on campus, they’ve only cancelled classes a handful of times. When it comes to shutting campus down completely, Mihalyov wrote that “no one at the college can close the campus, the New York State Governor is the only one with that authority.” He said March 2017 was the last time he recalls that happening. 

“It is also important to note that Nazareth, Roberts Wesleyan, St. John Fisher and the University of Rochester were all open Thursday,” Mihalyov wrote. 

One student, Claire Touschner, who thought the college should close, even went so far as to start a petition on change.org. It reached over 2,000 signatures within its first five hours. 

The students’ efforts weren’t unrewarded and classes were eventually cancelled Thursday morning, as previously mentioned.