The college system in the United States has many problems. From lack of funding to inadequate teaching staff, one particular issue has been affecting schools in the Midwest & East Coast – a polar vortex. Schools have no control over the weather, but they control their response to it in terms of student attendance. Despite the nearly record-breaking cold temperatures, colleges like the University of Chicago continue to remain open, potentially putting student health at risk.
The polar vortex is a whirlpool of Arctic air that has made the Midwest its new home. From the Dakotas to West Virginia, an average of 90 million Americans are expected to experience temperatures at/below zero and global warming is to blame.As a result of climate change, the jet stream has been wobbling, allowing the radius of cold air to expand into the States.
Schools like the City Colleges of Chicago recognize the danger of students being outside in temperatures around -35 degrees. They canceled classes this past Wednesday & Thursday according to their Twitter account. In these freezing temperatures, hypothermia can be experienced in about 10 minutes, if not properly dressed. At -40 degrees, it could be experienced in about 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, the University of Chicago suspended half its day on Thursday, resuming classes at noon. The university also closed potential shelters for the students such as the libraries. It also advised that if a student or staff member were to have difficulties getting to their appointments once classes restart, they should contact the appropriate person.
This isn’t the first time that a University has put student health at risk by not canceling classes. Just last year, UCLA was under fire for not canceling classes due to heavy smoke from California wildfires. They instead handed out a limited amount of air masks to certain students.
This is not acceptable. A student’s health should not be put at risk for a 50-minute lecture. In fact, there should be legal protection from such actions. Colleges should not be able to force students to attend school if there is even a remote threat to their health.
Other concerns would be the safety of the homeless during this time, especially homeless students. Colleges should open their doors to protect their students from the dangers of extreme cold. While students at the University of Wisconsin are snowboarding and making igloos, a student at the University of Iowa was found dead outside of a campus building, his death being related to the freezing temperatures. When will colleges like UCLA & U of Chicago realize that student safety and health should be the highest priority, especially over some intro to Biology class?
The sad answer may be they they never will. Despite their glamorous appeal, people seem to forget that universities are businesses. They get paid whether or not students attend class. Their biggest concern is cashing the next tuition check, instead of caring for the students that wrote it.
Frank Peña is a third-year Journalism and Informatics major. He can be reached at email@example.com.