Is the honeymoon over? So soon? Today, Washingtonians got hit with a cold blast from a most unexpected source: President Obama! Observing that his daughters did not have to go to school today because Sidwell Friends closed as a result of the weather, President Obama said, “When it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don’t seem to be able to handle things.”
Chicagoans, he pointed out with some pride, tough it out.
I pondered this issue today as I fielded complaints from students demanding to know why I expected them to come to class when there was ice on the ground. Well, as Trinity’s oft-promoted policy statement makes clear, we don’t expect anyone to come to class if she or he feels unsafe traveling here in a weather situation. We go to great lengths to try to clear the campus as safely and quickly as possible. Our intrepid facilities team did manage to brave the storm to get to campus by 4 am today to salt/sand/chip and clear our roads, lots and walkways so that everyone could be safe on campus. (Thanks, team!!) We decided to open a little late, at 10 am, because the weather forecasts all said that the temperature would go above freezing as the day went along, as it did, thus melting a good deal of the frozen stuff. But, still, since all weather is truly local, if someone feels that travel is unsafe, “Stay home” is also our constant advice. But Trinity will continue to be open for business and classes on all but the most extreme weather days.
So, as we cleared the campus and I pondered the WWW? question, what did I decide? Well, on weather days, I spend a lot of time listening to radio and television news to keep up with what’s happening — and while I don’t always want to “blame the media” for social ills — in this case, I have to say, the media surely contributes to the collective hysteria about snow in this region. TV stations can’t wait to do their Storm Central thing, with the most amazing Doppler this-and-that, heavy bands of heavy breathing over one inch or two. Traffic reporters on the radio use their most stentorian tones to order everyone not only to stay home but, preferably, hide under a bed or in the closet (hopefully, with bags of bread and rolls of TP to pass the hours in a place safe from frozen precip.)
WTOP today used the current fashion of interactive media to take the hysteria one step further — all day long, the commentators hammered away at the D.C. Schools for deciding to open two hours late, rather than canceling all day. Anchors encouraged listeners to call the “talk back line” or add comments on the website. The implication was that this decision of DCPS was improper and inept, which is simply insulting. At some level, the media owes it to our local school administrators to let them manage the schools without this constant drumbeat of second-guessing even the most mundane of decisions. Stick to the important stuff, guys, like curriculum reform, improving college attendance rates, and promoting successful teaching!
I have one other theory about this WWW problem — we live in the most lawyer-saturated region of the country. Everybody’s a risk manager. The idea of throwing caution to the wind and skating across a parking lot on your wingtips is incompatible with the basic instincts of the place that invented airport security. We’re not Weather Wimps, we’re Warriors for Everyone’s Welfare. Just Stay Home — it’s the ultimate order to promote the best in risk management.
PS: Check out this Marc Fisher column — 71% of his readers agree with Obama on the WWW problem….
PPS: Check out “Obama on Thin Ice” in today’s Washington Post by Trinity Alumna and retired Washington Post Editor Jeanne McManus ’69