By Preeteesh Peetabh Singh
“There was no point coming to school. If they could cancel the test that day, why couldn’t they cancel the class?” asks Maya K, hospitality student at George Brown College (GBC).
On Feb. 8, Toronto witnessed the worst snowstorm since 2008. About 30 cm of snow fell as public life came almost to a standstill. Streetcars breaking down, transit failure, and slow traffic were some of the issues faced by the people who still had to go to work or school because they were open.
GBC students faced similar problems in the snowstorm.
Andy Lau, studying hotel management at GBC said, “I got to know that my class was cancelled after I reached school. The website said that school was still open. I had to go back without attending classes, apart from the difficulty in travelling, it was a waste of transit money.”
While most of the students did not support the college’s decision to remain open, the college authorities backed their call.
“We have a responsibility to our students who have paid fee towards their education, and unless there is a significant risk or harm, we try to honor that responsibility” said Karen Thomson, Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Enrollment Management at GBC.
Eugene Harrigan, Vice President of Corporate Services said, “Students are paying fees and we have an obligation to provide service. Many people are equally annoyed when you are not open, students have mid-terms, they want to access the library, and parents have to access the child care centers.”
Harrigan believed that even though the college was open, people should take their own circumstances into consideration in these situations. According to him, it was the correct decision and it was also a correct decision later in the day to close a bit early at 3 p.m.
An online poll at The Dialog’s website asked “How do you think GBC handled the winter storm?” 83 per cent of almost 400 people said “The college was unprofessional and communicated poorly”; “The College handled things okay, there was room for improvement” got 12 per cent while “The college was professional and communicated well’ managed only five per cent.
Reacting to this poll, Harrigan said, “There are around 20,000 students in the college, the response of the students is relatively low, but we get the message. That’s something we would listen to and take into consideration next time. There is always room for improvement.”
The Student Association’s (SA) board of directors passed a motion on Feb. 13 which said that the SA would write a letter condemning the failure of the college to respond to students needs in a safe manner and their late response to the situation. They will also provide support to students who received academic penalties for failure to attend classes and lobby the college to revisit and strengthen their communication policies as it relates to events of this nature.
Mohammad Ali Aumeer, the SA’s director of Education and Equity said, “One of the really important things I would like to see in the future is clearer and more frequent communication. I know there was some communication, but it was not enough.”
Although there have been no cases brought up yet by the students where they have been penalized for not attending classes that day, Aumeer said, “(The) SA would provide support if such cases are brought forward. The avenue will depend on individual cases whether it will through the board of directors taking it up at a political level, or through academic advocacy.”
Alistair Courtney, the SA’s director of Public Relations, said, “I think that the teachers should be lenient, knowing the fact that people could not come on that day. It was a bad day. My car couldn’t leave the driveway. It was difficult to get out. Penalizing the students for something that is an act of god is not right.”