Student outrage over President Oldham’s decision to have students come back to campus on Friday Feb. 19 after a week of snow days changes administration’s mind.
Cookeville and surrounding areas were put under a winter storm watch Monday, Feb. 15. Cookeville received several inches of ice and snow over the course of the week. The ice and falling limbs caused power outages to occur across the state. Around 4,000 outages were reported in Cookeville alone.
Many students were left with no electricity and internet for days, making it nearly impossible for them to attend even virtual classes.
President Oldham and the rest of Tech’s administration closed campus because of “hazardous weather conditions and potential power outages,” on Feb. 15 through Feb. 18.
The first place campus cancellations are announced is through President Oldham’s twitter, @TTUPrezPhil.
Despite the snow and ice continuing to cover Cookeville and surrounding areas, Oldham tweeted that classes would resume on Friday, Feb. 19.
“Thanks to the best facilities and grounds staff in TN, @tennesseetech will be back on regular class schedule tomorrow, Fri., Feb. 19. All offices open. #WingsUp,” Oldham tweeted on Thursday afternoon.
The decision to resume classes sparked outrage in the student body on Twitter. His tweet received 76 comments and 26 quote tweets. Students made memes and fake accounts posing as Oldham to express their anger towards the decision.
“I think the decisions they made are very insensitive and inconsiderate to so many of their students that live in more rural areas and are having to worry about so many other things right now,” Veronica White, senior nursing major, said.
White was in Lebanon and unable to travel back to Cookeville because the roads were covered in snow and ice when she received the news about campus opening. White had an in person exam scheduled for Friday Feb. 19 that was moved online by the professor. White expressed concern for her classmates without power or internet and wondered if they would be able to take the exam.
“I live barely out of city limits so the main roads are fine. The backroads are horrible and my apartment is impossible to get out of right now because I live on a hill. I am literally stuck in my apartment,” Madison Gibbs, family and consumer science education senior, said.
Accounting senior, Kassaundra Copas was stuck in her apartment due to her road and parking lot being covered in snow and ice. Copas was not far from a clear, main road, but due to the conditions of the side roads needed to get there posed the risk of sliding into oncoming traffic.
“Currently, I have power and WiFi, but it’s been on and off all week, with my internet being off for over 48 hours at one point… it’s been a very stressful situation and has brought on unneeded stress and anxiety. It’s really taking a toll on these students from everything I’ve heard. I think until power is back up across the county, even online classes should have been canceled,” Copas said.
Students on Twitter were not the only ones fighting for clarification on the call. Student Government Association President Aaron Lay was in contact with administration throughout the entire week advocating for student safety and well-being.
Lay made multiple requests and recommendations to administration over the course of the week. The first request being to move to virtual deliveries only on Thursday Feb. 18 and Friday Feb. 19 to allow students to travel home without worry of having to travel back to Cookeville in the snow.
“On Tuesday night I forwarded a letter, it was just from me as SGA president, to upper administration asking them to consider the move to all online classes for Thursday and Friday, and then canceling if [power could not be restored], but going ahead and letting students know, Tuesday night or Wednesday morning that classes were at least not going to be in person. That way if students wanted to travel home in that window of time on Wednesday when there wasn’t any winter weather and the roads were pretty clear, that’s what I did myself, I went ahead and came back to East Tennessee during that quick window of time when it was safe to travel,” Lay said.
Lay remained in contact with members of administration on Thursday both before and after the announcement that classes would be in person was made.
“After they announced that we were going to be in person and everything was open, I then reached out back again to upper administration and requested some clarification and justification as to why they decided to go the route that they did, and also just reiterated that if they weren’t aware students were very upset that [opening campus] was the decision they had made,” Lay said.
About four and a half hours after the original tweet was sent, Oldham tweeted, “Ok. I give. Mother Nature wins. The winter weather warning was lifted, but the heavy snow started falling again. Due to additional snow and safety issues, classes are canceled and offices will be closed on Friday. Be safe. #WingsUp”
“The President got together at least twice a day last week with a group of campus leaders and got the latest information gathered from facilities, police, college deans, local officials and others. He discussed campus conditions, local road conditions, forecasts and our campus’s ability to provide support services to students… As snow began and continued to fall during the afternoon, the group got together again and got updates on conditions. The decision was changed based on those updates,” Karen Lykins, Chief Communications Officer for Tech, said in a statement on behalf of Tech.
Students quickly showed their support for the decision in the comments of the tweet.
Despite Oldham listing heavy snowfall as the reason for the change, students still claimed the announcement as a victory and celebrated it as such.
“I think that they just took a second glance at it, and saw that the decision was maybe a little inconsiderate, and had some unintended consequences of their decision that they hadn’t necessarily considered, and maybe the students voicing their opinion really got upper administration more in touch with what students were feeling right now,” Lay said.
To ensure that Lay and the rest of SGA are working as a channel to express your thoughts and feelings regarding the university, Lay lists the best ways to get your voice heard in student government and in administration.
“Students should look and see what kind of issue they have. If it is just something that is just college specific, the way that SGA is set up is that we have representation of our student government from each of our colleges. So if there is something that is happening in your college that you would like to voice your opinion about you can reach out to the senators that represent you in the student government that you elect from your college,” Lay said, “Also, if it is more of a university wide thing you can reach out to me… We also have a contact us form and all of the responses in that form come directly back to me.”
Every SGA member and their emails, including Lay and the college senators, are listed on the SGA website, tntech.edu/sga.
Lay also encourages students to reach out on SGA’s Instagram (@tntech_sga) and Twitter (@tntech_sga).
“We thank SGA president Aaron Lay for staying in touch and sharing ideas, and student comments are always read and appreciated. We also are grateful for the hundreds of people worked throughout the week on campus to provide safe housing, food and activities for students,” Lykins said.