If you've lived in Tennessee your entire life, you probably haven't had many snow days.
On Tuesday, it started snowing at about 9:30 a.m. Nothing heavy, but precious snowflakes were falling from the sky onto our hilly and prismatic Knoxville. It was still safe to drive. The Daily Beacon was encouraging students to take snowy pictures around campus. Students were looking forward to playing in the snow between classes.
But then, we looked at the clock. It was 1 p.m., and the snow was amassing on the sidewalks. I wondered if the university would close for the rest of the day. Partially, this was in my own personal interest since I had a class at 3:40 p.m. that I didn't feel comfortable driving to.
Still, I was concerned about the number of students commuting to campus. Off-campus students are by far the largest residential constituency of students. Many of them don't live in Fort Sanders or in Maplehurst, where you can walk to campus, but in South Knoxville, North Knoxville and even out past Cedar Bluff.
Experience has taught me that Knoxvillians – and Southerners in general – aren't exactly gold medalists at driving in winter weather. Just look up and down Lake Avenue at people trying to leave campus on a snowy day. Look what happened in Atlanta on Tuesday where some people, tired of waiting in traffic and unable to get home, slept on the floor of a CVS pharmacy.
I got lucky that the professor of my 3:40 p.m. class canceled, citing unsafe driving conditions. Other students weren't so lucky and drove to and from school on unsalted, curvy, snow-heaped roads. Many of these students wrecked their cars.
At about 5:30 p.m., my roommate got back from class, having trekked up the hill to our house, leaving his car at the bottom of it. His car couldn't get up the hill, and he slid backwards halfway up. Several other people had parked their cars at the bottom of the hill, and we walked down there to help another student who had slipped off the road, completely smashing and warping one of his tires.
On the winding road to our house, several cars hugged the side of the road, abandoned, because they couldn't make it home. I was thrilled that our bi-weekly Senate meeting was canceled, not because I didn't want to go, but because I was truly afraid to drive my Honda Accord to campus in the frozen environment.
Then it struck me that in an age of rampant social media, instant email access on smartphones and easily accessible mass text messaging, I hadn't heard anything from UT about the weather that had already forced Knox County schools to dismiss early.
I thought maybe UT had alerted its 30,000 students, many of whom would have driven on hazardous roads, that they should stay home. Or I thought at least, when many professors were canceling class out of concern for their students, that UT proper would have at least addressed the issue.
So I checked my UT email. Silence.
I checked the UT website. Silence.
I even checked the UT Twitter feed – @UTKnoxville. The account had assured a few students they would be updated. But still, silence.
This really is baffling. Shouldn't student safety be the most important function of UT's communications experts? Who's sitting around deciding if school goes on? And who authorizes telling students about it? It really can't be that grueling to send an email.
This after three pickup trucks were stolen on campus – and there was another attempted theft – before UTPD felt the need to alert students through email.
You can even check the @UTPolice Twitter feed to see their minor spat with me about the issue – but really, this is for a whole other column.
In the flurrying, banking and clouding snow, we've learned one very clear thing this week: UT grossly mishandled the dangerous weather conditions on Tuesday. I'm not even talking about closing the university. There were no alerts, no addresses, no emails, no comments to students who had to decide whether or not to risk their safety to attend class.
Forget "Big Orange, Big Ideas." How about "Leaving Students Out to Dry?" I'm starting to think this should be our new branding motto.
Wade Scofield is a senior in Latin and religious studies. He can be reached at email@example.com.