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Friday, Nov 26, 2021

How does Mercer decide when to cancel classes for inclement weather?

Campus closed on Oct. 10 for Mercer undergraduates but Mercer Law students still attended classes. Photo by Elizabeth Daniels.
Campus closed on Oct. 10 for Mercer undergraduates but Mercer Law students still attended classes. Photo by Elizabeth Daniels.

Hurricane Michael swept through Middle Georgia mid-October, prompting closures across the region. Mercer University announced Tuesday, Oct. 9 that undergraduate classes scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 10 would be rescheduled, but students at the Walter F. George School of Law a mile away were still expected to attend regular classes.

Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida panhandle as a Category 4 storm the afternoon of Oct. 10 and, steadily weakening, headed into Macon early the next day.

Employees and commuting students who live in areas that are impacted more severely than Macon should use their judgment in getting out on Thursday morning (Oct. 11),” the University said in a Facebook post announcing that the law school would remain open.

Larry Brumley, senior communications director and chief of staff, is part of the group of administrators involved in making decisions on when to cancel classes. Safety is the highest priority, he said, but schools are required to schedule a certain number of face-to-face class hours to maintain accreditation.

“It’s complicated,” Brumley said. “We have to balance the issue of personal safety with the fact that students are paying us to get an education here and we have to deliver on that education.”

Brumley said that because fall break for undergraduates started Thursday, the administration decided to give students Wednesday off so they could travel home safely without weather impacting their travels.

“If fall break hadn’t been scheduled on Thursday (and) Friday, we might have made a different decision,” he said. “Hindsight’s 20/20. We probably could have had classes on Thursday and been fine.”

Mercer posted an update Wednesday night announcing that all Mercer campuses in Macon would be closed, including the law school.

“Once we knew the hurricane had made landfall, we had a better projection of what the conditions were going to be like in Macon,” Brumley said. “An influencing factor was the local government’s call on Wednesday night for people to stay off the roads the next day to allow for cleanup.”

Some law students said the decision came too late for them to plan accordingly.

“Thanks for canceling 10 minutes after this tree took out power lines and the front porch of my neighbor's house,” law student Brandi Holland commented on a university Facebook post. “Too late for us to get out now.”

Holland posted a photo of the fallen tree blocking access to the street.

Other students were disappointed about the delay in canceling law school classes.

“Because a large number of students commute to the law school, it's unfair to them for Mercer to delay its decision on matters of personal safety until mere hours before Macon is impacted by the storm,” student Ezra Gantt said in a Facebook comment.

Brumley said it’s always difficult to make a decision regarding campus closures because not all students and faculty will be affected in the same ways.

“You can’t please everyone with these decisions,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to get these decisions 100 percent right every time.”


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