Snow days weigh heavily on Catskills college students

After a brutal winter in the Catskills, college students are holding their breath, hoping for no more snow days.

College classes at SUNY Cobleskill, SUNY Delhi, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Oneonta, SUNY Sullivan and SUNY Ulster have all experienced weather-related cancellations with more frequency than usual in 2015.

For SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Sullivan students, Monday classes have been hit particularly hard. Three consecutive Monday snow days on Jan. 26, Feb. 2, and Feb. 9 prevented classes from meeting and have significantly set back course curriculums.

SUNY Sullivan had the most official, university-declared cancellations of colleges in the Catskills region. Four whole days of classes were cancelled, and classes were either delayed or closed early on three additional days. In Ulster County, SUNY New Paltz cancelled classes six times and SUNY Ulster cancelled classes four times.

In Schoharie County, SUNY Cobleskill cancelled classes three times. In Delaware County, SUNY Delhi cancelled classes twice. And in Otsego County, SUNY Oneonta cancelled classed on one day and partially cancelled classes on another day.

Laura Gross, the controller of business affairs at SUNY Cobleskill, said that Cobleskill decided to close the campus three times out of concern for the college’s population of commuter students, who make up about 40 percent of the student body.

“Safety is our top priority,” said Hal Legg, the director of communications at SUNY Oneonta. “We absolutely do not want students to put themselves in danger to get here.”

SUNY Ulster, which had the most cancellations this winter after SUNY Sullivan and SUNY New Paltz, consists entirely of commuter students, a fact that influences the administration’s decision to cancel classes.

“Nonexistent” classes

Students say that official campus cancellations are only part of the story of how this winter’s weather has affected their studies.

Jessica Lilly, a 19-year-old sophomore at SUNY Oneonta, said that her professors have cancelled about five or six other sessions of her classes in addition to the two days of cancellations made by the university.

Because professors have to commute through snow to get to campus, it is their choice whether or not to come into work, college administrators said.

Cancellations add stress to universities, faculty and students. Missing three weeks of class — especially when some classes only meet once or twice a week — can completely halt curriculum progression.

Nineteen-year-old Cassidy Cunningham is one of the students affected by what she called the “nonexistent” Monday classes at SUNY New Paltz this semester. She said that she has only attended class twice. The class has put weeks of material that is meant to be taught in a classroom “into an online class, all because of snow days,” she said.

Students said that the snow days have extended the school year and have added to their workloads. In response to these complaints, some universities are considering shuffling class schedules and even tweaking final exams.

Phillip Mauceri, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at SUNY New Paltz, emailed the entire student body on Feb. 19 to describe solutions to the cancelled classes problem, including rescheduling cancelled classes, adding more study days and perhaps making a “modest adjustment to the final exam schedule.”

These solutions may prove to be sufficient as finals week inches closer, but “winter may not be done with us yet, so we need to be prepared to respond to additional cancellations if they come to pass,” said Mauceri in the campus-wide email.