All study, no play? UNO’s policy on snow day


By T.J. Accola

The city of Omaha went to bed Thursday night expecting an impenetrable blanket of snow to appear by morning’s light.

As much as 14 inches of snow were expected to fall in the wee hours, and in typical Midwestern fashion, the denizens of Omaha — among them UNO’s 15,000 students — had battened down the hatches, preparing for the worst.

Most of the area’s public institutions had announced cancellations Thursday evening, but UNO was an exception.

Students expecting cancellation likely had fingers crossed until just before 8 a.m. Friday morning, when the university’s official weather announcement site ( finally let students know that “The university is open and all classes will meet.”

So why the wait? Most forecasts had called for snowfall beginning around 5 a.m. Why didn’t university officials play it safe like so many other area institutions had?

Jim Buck, vice chancellor for university affairs and communication, says determining whether conditions will prevent classes from taking place is often “a toss of the coin.”

“The ability of the university to keep its operation open and able to accommodate students” is the primary concern for officials when determining whether to cancel classes, Buck says.

“Generally speaking, we are a business,” Buck says. “And we basically try to stay open.”

Buck says preliminary assessments, if possible, are made the night before expected inclement weather.

University officials, including Neil Morgensen, facilities management and planning director, Nancy Castilow, university affairs director, and representatives of both academic affairs and the personnel office, try to formulate a decision as early as possible.

Buck says the group tries to have decisions regarding cancellations at least three hours in advance.

Buck and company are sometimes forming a decision as early as 3:00 a.m.

“I try to call the chancellor by 4:30 or so to let her know what’s going on,” Buck says. ” And then we go and try to get it out by the very latest 5 a.m.”

While Chancellor Belck does have final say on whether the university will be closed or not, the decision is more or less determined by the city’s ability to provide students, faculty and staff with suitable conditions in which to travel.

“The city tells us how they’re doing relative to the streets, how they see what’s going on, what the protections are, that sort of thing,” Buck says.

Also playing a factor in the equation is the number of extracurricular activities scheduled on campus.

“We have a responsibility to make sure that everything else that is scheduled on campus is basically notified or accommodated,” Buck says. “[We] have to bring to the table all of the things that are going on at the university besides classes.”

*Not of concern to university officials are prank calls like the one Buck’s office received Friday morning.

Buck says a person identifying himself as an employee of the National Weather Service contacted the university affairs division with a “warning” that the impending snow necessitated the university’s closing. But upon contacting the NWS, Buck’s office was told no such calls were being made. Bucks suspects the caller was an enterprising student who perhaps had an exam or assignment to hand in.

Regardless, Buck and company made the decision to close the university at 2 p.m. Less than a half-foot of snow ultimately fell at UNO, meaning few events at UNO had to be rescheduled, which is quite alright with Buck.

“We are paid by the students and the state of Nebraska to teach,” Buck says. “And when Mother Nature interferes with that, our goal is to stay open.”


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