Many Boston universities and colleges have closed at least once this year due to winter weather, but MIT has remained open. Whether MIT closes is up to three or four top administrators. The Tech spoke to Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 and John DiFava, the director of facilities operations and security, to find out how the decision is made.
According to Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, during a storm, MIT can take action in three ways: close, open late, or open on time but excuse those who are late.
The process starts with John DiFava, who can make a recommendation to close MIT, though it still has to be vetted by at least three others.
When making his decision, DiFava first considers whether Facilities will be able to keep up with snow removal on campus, he told The Tech. Next, he considers the City of Cambridge’s ability to remove snow and the conditions of the roads immediately adjacent to campus.
DiFava said he cannot pay attention to popular travel routes far from MIT, such as Routes 93 and 95. “The reason is, [with] so many storms, particularly this year, the South Shore gets killed, the North Shore is fine, [or] the North Shore gets killed, the South Shore is fine. I have to make my decision based on campus,” DiFava said.
Sometimes a call from the City of Cambridge tips the scale, according to DiFava. “If we get a call from the city of Cambridge saying, ‘you know something, we just can’t keep up, we’d love to delay some of the bigger employers in the area like MIT, like Harvard, is there anything you can do?’ That’s a consideration.”
Barnhart said MIT closes if the governor declares a state of emergency in Massachusetts or if public transit shuts down. But for most storms the decision is not so clear-cut. According to DiFava, decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
Once DiFava makes a recommendation, he discusses it with Marianna C. Pierce, the director of policy, compliance, and labor relations. DiFava then makes a phone call to Anthony P. Sharon, the deputy executive vice president, and Kirk D. Kolenbrander, a vice president and secretary of the Corporation. Collectively, the three arrive at a decision.
“At the end of the day, my decision is based on safety,” DiFava said.
Barnhart added: “Harvard and MIT follow the same procedure, and we check on each other as well.”
This year, MIT has never closed or opened late, but it has excused late employees.
“It falls on my ability to remove the snow, which is predicated on how many people I have coming in, and how our subcontractor is doing,” DiFava said. MIT’s long-time contractor, D’Allessandro, provides MIT with 15 pieces of large-scale equipment to aid in snow removal.
Norman Magnuson, the grounds services manager, said that Facilities has 40 to 45 staff members who handle snow and plowing during a snowstorm.
“Facilities tries to be at MIT just prior to the start of snow,” Magnuson said. “It takes six to eight hours to clear a bad storm after it stops snowing.”
Magnuson also said there was a nationwide shortage of salt and ice melt this winter. Despite this shortage, MIT has been able to keep up with this year’s snowfall. Boston has seen a total of 53.5 inches of snow this winter so far, 10 inches short of the 2012-2013 total of 63.4 inches, according to National Weather Service statistics.
“We’ve got it down to a science. Between our Facilities people and our contractor, we do a good job. We’re able to get it cleaned up in a pretty quick order,” said DiFava.
Last winter, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency due to the February 2013 nor’easter. MIT closed for that storm.
“[Governor Patrick] asked that employers consider the fact that it may be worth closing. And that’s kind of a message to me,” DiFava said. “But this year, it’s funny. Where snow fell and in terms of the time the storm started, we were in good shape.”