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Boston Weather: 48.0°F | Fair

Dangerous Winter Conditions Warrant Institute Action

By Matt Neimark
Columnist

Last Wednesday, like many of you, I woke up bright and early for my first class. I peeked out my window and noticed that the same snowstorm which had begun over 24 hours before was still dumping snow at an appreciable rate. On Memorial Drive, traffic was at a dead halt, and rush hour was almost over. I absolutely dreaded the notion of walking through this blizzard to my 9:30 a.m. class.

Suddenly, I heard a list of schools being mentioned on the radio program which woke me up. School closings, I realized. I listened closely. Almost all public school systems in the area were canceled. Then the announcers went through a list of colleges and universities: "Boston University, Tufts, Brandeis, University of Massachusetts at Boston" -- all canceled or delayed long enough to give lucky students an extra few hours of such desperately needed sleep.

I realized that MIT probably wouldn't close until the snow accumulated all the way to the top of the great dome, so I grudgingly proceeded to take my shower.

My walk to the 'Tute was more of a nuisance than a harrowing journey. On the way, I met up with a friend who was also disappointed that she wasn't getting a day off. However, she found out through an MIT telephone service, 253-SNOW that classes weren't canceled.

It greatly surprised me that MIT had such a service since they never cancel classes in the first place. Although most MIT students are told of the great snow of '78 which closed the Institute for a week, they are not told the governor had to order MIT to close when it remained the only place open in the Boston area after over 20 inches had accumulated.

I am from the Washington, D.C. area where the entire city shuts down when an inch of snow falls, so MIT's cavalier attitude towards winter weather greatly surprised me. I complain of the inconvenience to students who have to walk through the snow to get to classes, but this is not my main concern. Instead, I believe that such deep and rapidly falling snow on the area's roads poses a serious hazard to members of the MIT community who must drive to work, and MIT propagates this hazard by refusing either to close or delay the opening of the Institute.

MIT seems to make such cancellations based on students who live fairly close to the Institute. However this disregards a large percentage of students, including undergraduates in living groups, who drive to classes. Their inexperience driving in snowy conditions makes the trip a rather unsafe experience. Considering the high occurrence of traffic accidents last week, including many which were fatal, it is fortunate that nobody from MIT was hurt.

In addition, the vast majority of the MIT community, including graduate students, professors, workers, and research scientists also drive to work. On such snow days as we had last week, they are subjected to very dangerous driving conditions.

The general culture of MIT seems to value day-to-day progress and production despite difficult outside circumstances. It is this admiration of enterprise in the midst of harsh situations which makes MIT so reluctant to close, or even open late, during even blizzard conditions.

While this is certainly a respectable attitude to take toward one's work, safety of the members of the community should always be the major concern. This does not mean that MIT should close when two inches of snow fall. However enough snow fell last Wednesday to warrant at least a delayed opening. A loss of an experiment or precious class time is minimal compared to loss due to injury or death. Fortunately, MIT had the sense to close early at 3:00 p.m. last Friday. However, the administration was quite slow to react and this action should have been performed earlier in the day and earlier in the week.