Costly snow days put classes in perspective

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • February 12, 2015

At issue: Controversy brews over make up classes for snow days.

Our take: We'll work it out in the end.

Emerson’s recent spate of class cancellations amid prolific snowstorms has spurred discontented chatter among many students, concerned about losing money in their missed hours of instruction. But here’s what we should consider: “Losing” money during a school year is inevitable.

Whether you slept through your 4 p.m. gen ed because you pressed snooze too many times, or came down with the flu and missed your four-hour Monday night course, perfect attendance in college is a rarity, no matter the weather. What’s different about the snow days is that they affected all of us nearly equally—as many discovered with the Beacon’s tool that estimates the canceled courses’ value in tuition dollars. 

The truth is that a great classroom discussion or effective hands-on demonstration is impossible to assign a cost. Just because your missed classes had a sticker value of several hundred or thousand dollars doesn’t mean that’s what they were actually worth—or that you wouldn’t have, in some way, lost this money anyway.

The snow days aren’t anyone’s fault, but they have become everyone’s problem. Some have been angered by Emerson’s natural decision to hold makeup days for at least two Saturdays this semester. Students have created an online petition that outlines all the reasons why this is simply unacceptable for the undergraduate body—chief among them, that many students need to work on weekends.

Students might like to think that their jobs are keeping them at this school—and for some, this is true. But the reality is that for most, missing a day of class will cost more in the long-term than missing a day of work. It shouldn’t be impossible for students to make arrangements to have someone cover their shift at Urban Outfitters that weekend. Just because some students cannot make it doesn’t mean all students must miss the class they paid for.

We are all ostensibly going to college to further our education and get a degree. If you can’t make it on Saturdays, then just don’t come. But the college must offer makeup days to stay accredited, and we’ve all already paid for this semester’s batch of classes.

Economists call the dilemma many are feeling the sunk cost fallacy. Even though we’ve already paid for this semester’s tuition, and there’s no chance we can get that money back, we still feel like we’re wasting money by not going to class. In reality, our decisions to go to class or not have no effect on the money we’ve already spent. (Of course, failing classes may affect your credit situation.)

But this doesn’t have to be an either-or issue. Emerson’s slogan is “Bringing innovation to communication and the arts”—at least until the current rebranding initiative is complete—so it makes sense that classes would adapt to obstacles to get the job done, even if unconventionally. During recent snow days, some classes have still managed to meet, using video conferencing programs and Canvas discussions to brainstorm ideas and continue conversations started in the classroom.

While this is but a substitute for the ideal of a physical, in-person forum, and won’t work for all Emerson courses—particularly those in performing arts and visual and media arts—taking advantage of these makeshift classes can be just as valuable as a normal class. In fact, with digitally enforced requirements like comment quotas and the accountability of your classmates observing your every nose scratch on Google Hangout, alternative class mediums can be even more engaging than scrolling through Facebook during an Ansin lecture. The snow may very well demolish the MBTA, but it doesn’t have to hurt your education.