While college campuses in Wichita, Emporia and Pittsburg, Kansas, remained closed and empty Tuesday, Kansas State’s campuses welcomed students back for the first day of the spring 2018 semester.
The National Weather Service issued a wind chill advisory effective until noon Tuesday, predicting dangerously low temperatures. Tuesday morning temperatures were bitterly cold with wind chills dipping well into the negatives. Multiple schools closed campuses and cancelled classes, including local Manhattan public schools in USD 383, but K-State remained open and classes were held as usual.
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The decision to remain open was made at around 4 a.m. Tuesday, said Cindy Bontrager, vice president for administration and finance. Before making the final decision, Bontrager said campus police and the Division of Facilities considered road and sidewalk conditions, the forecast and the safety of students and faculty.
K-State issued a statement via Twitter at 4:08 a.m. Tuesday: “K-State Alerts: All #KState campuses are open, however, due to wind chill advisory please take precautions to protect yourself and use your best judgment to ensure safety.”
K-State Alerts: All #KState campuses are open, however, due to wind chill advisory please take precautions to protect yourself and use your best judgment to ensure safety.
— K-State (@KState) January 16, 2018
“It’s always a difficult decision to make, whether to cancel classes,” Bontrager said. “We don’t take that very lightly. This one was a tough one to make.”
While the roads were deemed to be in good condition for driving, the main concerns were the frigid temperatures and the state of sidewalks on campus. Bontrager said Facilities treated sidewalks on campus Monday, but, with temperatures so low, the chemicals may not have been very effective in melting ice. Frostbite and hypothermia also posed risks.
Jordan Pulliam, sophomore in education, tweeted at the official K-State Twitter to express her concern.
“Since parking isn’t the best on campus the possibility of your loving students freezing to death walking to our 8 am classes is extremely likely …” Pulliam wrote.
Hey @KState since parking isn’t the best on campus the possibility of your loving students freezing to death walking to our 8 am classes is extremely likely so canceling school = thousands of lives saved… just sayin… go cats
— Jordan Pulliam (@jordan_pulliam) January 16, 2018
The temperature at 8 a.m. stood at -0.9 degrees Fahrenheit, but wind made it feel like -8.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I do believe that there was a real risk to students’ safety today,” Pulliam said, adding that a friend slipped on an ice sidewalk and “severely” cut their hand.
Olivia Barrett, sophomore in political science, said she also hoped that classes would be cancelled, citing the closure of other universities in Texas where temperatures peaked at nearly 30 degrees Fahrenheit and bottomed out before reaching 10 degrees.
“All of Texas closed today,” Barrett said. “It’s a lot worse here than at other campuses.”
Despite concern for students who walk to campus, administration decided to keep campus open and hold classes, citing completed treatment of sidewalks and the decisions of other universities. Other universities in Kansas also held classes, including the University of Kansas and Washburn University. A third factor was the precedent, Bontrager said.
“To my knowledge, the university has never closed due to temperatures,” Bontrager said.
Bontrager said the offices of Provost April Mason and university president Richard Myers were contacted by people who were upset with the decision.
“That’s part of the challenge,” Bontrager said. “Whatever the decision is, people will be unhappy.”
Students accepted the decision, bundled up against the cold and trudged to class.
“As long as you dress according to the weather, with hats and jackets, and try to avoid the major patches of ice when possible, it’s fine,” Brock Minton, freshman in mechanical engineering, said.
“In the end, I think it was beneficial for students to have class,” Pulliam said. “As many of my professors said today, we as students are paying a lot of money for this service.”