“Harvard University will close only for an act of God, such as the end of the world,’’ former Harvard Dean of Students Archie Epps III once said. If so, Harvard has seen a lot of evidence of The Almighty One these past few years.
Harvard schools have canceled classes on both Monday and Tuesday due to the latest snowstorm, which so far has dropped two feet of snow on the area and shut down the MBTA. That comes two weeks after the university suspended all operations on January 27 for the blizzard that led to a state of emergency and a travel ban across the state.
There was a time not long ago when canceling a single day of Harvard classes — not to mention three in one semester — would have been a surprise. Administrators called off three days of classes for the historic Blizzard of 1978, the first cancellation since an unnamed hurricane in 1938. Classes also closed in 1985 due to Hurricane Gloria.
But that was it for the entire 20th century. In 100 years, Harvard canceled classes only three times.
Administrators spoke proudly of their ability to consistently function amid all the weather turmoil. A 2006 article in The Crimson quoted the official Faculty of Arts and Sciences “inclement weather’’ policy, which stated that the school “rarely declares a University-wide weather emergency.’’
However, that “rarely’’ language no longer appears on the FAS website detailing the inclement weather guidelines. It’s not immediately clear if or when that was changed, but the ensuing increase in cancellations has been fairly dramatic.
In recent years, the Crimson officials have eschewed their “act of God’’ rhetoric in favor of siding with caution. With undergrads out of session, Graduate schools closed down classes in January 2011 after about 18 inches of snow. Harvard canceled all classes on October 29, 2012 ahead of the high winds and rain of Hurricane Sandy. The blizzard of February 2013 slammed the campus on a weekend, and university libraries were shut down. Officials also canceled classes on April 19, 2013 amid the manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after the Boston Marathon bombing.
Combine those shutdowns with the three days of canceled classes over the past few weeks, and you can see the change from the earlier days of Harvard. For undergraduates, there have been as many days off at Harvard in the last five years as there were in the entire 20th century.
So why the major change? Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde partly explained it in an email on Monday, according to The Crimson.
“It’s no longer the case that most faculty and staff live near the University, and many employees are hard pressed to come to work when their children’s schools are closed down,’’ Lassonde wrote.
Sure, caring about employees, that’s one reasonable explanation.