Senior vice president for business and finance decides when classes are canceled

Classes at Iowa State are not cancelled often, but there are certain criteria for this occurrence to happen. Snow is one of the criteria, along with temperatures reaching unsafe lows. Students walk past Curtis Hall on Jan. 12, the first day back from Winter Break.

Jace Dostal

Winter in the Midwest can present many challenges to students trying to get to class. Snow-covered sidewalks and icy roads can make it seem almost impossible to leave home, let alone make it to class. 

Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Warren Madden is in charge of deciding when classes are canceled due to bad weather.  Madden’s decisions are not always the most popular. 

“Not everyone is going to like the decision that I make, but we try to accommodate the maximum number of people,” Madden said.

When classes are canceled, they are rescheduled, and it is for that reason Madden does not like to cancel classes. In fact, classes are canceled only once a year on average.

To help make sure that the campus is safe to walk and drive through during winter weather, Iowa State turns to Facilities Planning and Management. 

“We’ve got fifty people that do our snow removal,” said Les Lawson, manager of Facilities Management. 

The snow removers start working between midnight and 4 a.m., and are usually done by 4 p.m.

“Our routes are large but if they start at midnight, they can do a better job and they don’t have to fight the traffic,” Lawson said. 

The difficulty of clearing the sidewalks and roads can vary depending on the storm. Lawson said that every snow is different.  Fluffy snow is easier to clear than wet snow, and the time of day that it falls makes a big difference as well. 

“If it falls overnight and we can get most of it off before we get a lot of activity, we’re good. But if it’s falling all day and people are walking on it and driving on it, it’s packing it down, and then we have real issues,” Lawson said. 

When it looks like there is a bad storm coming, Jerry Stewart, director of public safety, will call Lawson to make sure that he knows about it and to tell him that he will check back the following morning.

Stewart usually calls around 5 a.m. to see how much progress Lawson and his team have made clearing campus.  Stewart then contacts Madden and relays the information from Lawson, along with other information from the National Weather Service to the Iowa State Patrol and CyRide. 

Stewart and Madden then decide whether classes will be canceled for the day. Madden said that he likes to make a decision by 6 a.m. 

Students can find out if classes have been canceled by looking on the university’s homepage, Facebook and Twitter.

Madden is cautious about using the university emergency alert system to announce class cancelations. He likes to reserve that for what he calls “true emergencies”, but, he said, if the storm is really bad and he feels that it is unsafe for students to even be outside, he will use the system to warn them.

Madden understands not everyone who attends Iowa State University lives in the city of Ames, but he can’t make his decision based solely on the 15-20 percent who don’t. 

“This is Iowa and Iowa has winter, we expect people who attend Iowa State [University] to know that and to be prepared for it,” Madden said. 

Madden urges people to use their “best personal judgment” when coming to campus. “If it isn’t safe, don’t come,” he said.  Whether you decide to travel to campus or not,  Madden asks you to always be carful during the winter months.