Despite cold conditions, classes go on at many UW campuses

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The bitter cold prompted nearly 80 school closings in western Wisconsin on Tuesday. But for most college kids, that wasn't the case.

University of Wisconsin system schools in western Wisconsin remained open, including Eau Claire, River Falls, Stout, Superior and La Crosse.

When UW-Eau Claire posted an update on its Facebook page in the morning saying classes would go on as usual, responses of disagreement came pouring in.

One woman named Marie wrote a comment, saying “…shame on you UW-Eau Claire.” More than hundred other responses follow the university’s post.

But despite the social media squabble, students simply dealt with the cold by bundling up.

Assistant chancellor for university relations Mike Rindo said he meet with the chancellor and the facilities management director on morning like this to begin a consultation process.

He said their number one priority is the safety of the students, faculty and staff and whether there is any danger posed to them when getting to campus or going to facilities on campus.

“Very early in the morning, we examine the conditions, both the weather conditions that are present and also, is the campus open? Are the sidewalks roadways clear? What are the conditions in the community are there safe driving condition in the community is the visibility good? Then we do a consultation based on the best available informational that time in terms of the weather,” said Rindo.

Among the people who wrote on the university’s Facebook page in disagreement is UWEC junior Justin Zollar. He has to walk several blocks to get to campus when parking spots are scarce.

“I kind of feel like the university doesn't really care about students like you think they should,” said Zollar.

But with a decision made, students and staff were told to use their best judgment when coming to campus.

Zollar said that can also be a problem for his grades because attendance is important and he needs to take his classes to earn his degree in information systems.

“But then there are teachers who aren't going to let you skip class for any reason whatsoever and your grade is going to be directly affected,” said Zollar.

But that's an issue Rindo said students will have to work out with their professors, like associate professor communication and journalism Jack Kapfer.

“I think it’s absolutely legitimate that some didn't want to brave the weather that they shouldn’t have to come,” said Kapfer. “I just thought it was more practical to cancel the class and have those things on Thursday and Friday and accomplish those tasks.”

Zollar suggested administrators should get a taste of their own medicine and be forced to walk outside every 50 minutes for a time period of 10 minutes. He said the footbridge is the worst when it comes to bearing the cold.

“The footbridge, that’s insane. I avoided it today but I couldn’t' imagine having to walk that right now,” he said.

But not everyone could avoid the bridge, like Jessalee Simonson who had to go to a choir class at the Haas Fine Arts Center.

“It’s so cold that I’m trying to hold my scarf up to my face but the condensation from my breath is forming ice crystals on it,” said Simonson.

UWEC student Cory Yohnke had a similar description of walking across the bridge.

“I can't really feel my face so I can't really tell you there (how cold it is), I think my eye ashes are frozen to my forehead if that’s any indication,” said Yohnke.

Rindo said it’s important that students remember to dress and prepare for the elements, especially in a place like Wisconsin.

“This has been a very cold January, we understand that. Nobody likes it,” said Rindo.

But he said if the university closed every time temperatures reached negative double digits, there would not have been any classes during the spring semester, except for one day.

“We have to have a certain number of instructional days during the year. We don’t have makeup days at the end of the year like k-12 schools do. Plus our students are paying tuition for their instruction,” said Rindo.

Rindo said after talking with student health services, he learned there were three cases of students with frostbite-like symptoms since the beginning of the year, and that’s a typical amount.

UW-Eau Claire did cancel their classes after 5 p.m. on Monday due to conditions.