Manchester University
Oak Leaves

February 15, 2019

Polar Vortex Hits Midwest, MU Closes Campuses

Noah Tong


With subzero temperatures on the horizon for the for first week of the spring semester, Manchester students and faculty received word that classes would be cancelled due to extreme, cold weather from 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, until Friday morning, Feb. 1.

“It was a welcome surprise to hear early Monday night that class was cancelled,” said Nick Buttermore, a senior biochemistry major. “I live pretty close to campus, and I hadn’t left home yet. The cancellation allowed me to stay home with my family a couple days longer while avoiding roads that were in bad condition.

“All the weather reports were right!” Buttermore continued. “Walking to and from class in that weather would have been absolutely miserable.”

Clair Knapp, the administrator responsible for alerting students of the schedule change, ultimately decided holding classes during these days would be dangerous and irresponsible. Knapp, chief business officer and vice president for Finance at Manchester, oversees physical planning, information technology, the office of financial services, and auxiliary services in addition to making these school cancellation determinations.

“The safe thing to do was minimize the amount of time students, faculty and staff would be outside,” Knapp said. With temperatures expected to be approximately negative 40 degrees after wind chill is accounted for, it wasn’t a decision to be made lightly.

“The unprecedented cold weather and the projected wind chills were obviously one factor,” Knapp continued. “The second factor was we like to see what other similar institutions are doing around us as well. Everyone was doing the same thing and taking precautions.”

Indeed, colleges spanning states from South Dakota to Ohio called off classes for at least a day. Indiana University, however, did not cancel classes immediately. Soon an internet petition with over 28,000 signatures asking the Bloomington campus to be shut down subjected IU to national media attention. In the end, the petition succeeded.

Locally, the cancellation gave Manchester students a chance to get reacclimated with classes slowly. “I really appreciated having those two days off,” said Braydon Sewell, a junior accounting major. “During those two days off, I stayed at home since it was so cold my car wouldn’t start!

“I think they were right to cancel classes,” Sewell continued. “It would’ve been difficult to make it to school, especially as a commuter. Instead, I had the chance to get ahead on schoolwork, watch some English Premier League soccer, and play Fortnite. Most importantly, I wasn’t freezing.”

For students’ safety, Knapp acknowledged that some staff clocked into work despite the frigid conditions. “We needed to have security,” he said. “There was a small presence of physical plant and custodial staff on-site to monitor that heat was on and everything was working. But we still wanted to minimize the amount of time those staff were outside.”

Food service personnel also reported to work. This ‘polar vortex’ impacted those at the North Manchester and Fort Wayne campuses. Classes, extra-curricular activities, and pharmacy student rotations were cancelled immediately, as well as some athletic competitions and practices. Students were advised to spend a minimal time outside and to drive safely, if at all.

Residential students were instructed to keep windows, doors, curtains and blinds closed in the halls to help the heating systems function correctly in the extreme temperatures. Past experiences at universities have helped set a precedent to dictate whether Manchester should close for a couple of days.

“Five years ago, when I worked at Bethel College, located in Mishawaka, Indiana, we closed for a couple of days for extreme low temperatures,” Knapp said. The two-day class cancellation was not, however, Knapp’s decision alone. He consulted with President McFadden, Dr. Raylene Rospond, Whitney Bandemer, and faculty in other departments when discussing potential courses of action.

Considering the circumstances, Knapp believes the university made the right call. “Every other institution in northeast Indiana closed from Tuesday night, some through Thursday afternoon,” he said. “Given the extreme nature of the weather, and the once-in-a-generation temperatures that we had, we think it was the right decision for everyone involved.”

Classes resumed on Friday, Feb. 1.