By: Payton Isner, Contributor
“Furman has learned from its mistakes,” administration told faculty, staff and students last year after Hurricane Irma swept through the Upstate. The storm brought devastating winds and rain that took down trees across campus throughout the morning as students navigated the debris and tropical-storm-force winds to get to class. Only well into the evening did Furman eventually reverse its decision and decide to cancel all classes and activities.
A year later, and just a weekend ago, South Carolina faced another devastating tropical system, Hurricane Florence. This time the administration urged students that they were monitoring the situation and working closely with the National Weather Service, but that they should once again expect to navigate the storm for classes on campus. On Wednesday, however, after a shift in the forecast, Furman cancelled classes Thursday and Friday to allow students to flee the Upstate, or to help their families who may also be in the path of the storm.
Furman made the right call Thursday and Friday by allowing students to leave campus, and many students gratefully took advantage of this opportunity to head for safety. As Florence neared, the system weakened, and the effects in Greenville were less than expected. Furman used this as its key determiner to continue forward with classes and activities on Monday, arguing conditions were fine for students on campus. But Furman sent home a large number of its students only to request they navigate through the remnants Florence to be back in time for classes on Monday, completely negating the purpose of the original cancellations.
By asking students to prepare for classes on Monday, the administration put a number of students in a predicament: wait out the storm and miss classes, or attempt to travel back to campus on Sunday in high winds, rains and flash flooding throughout the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee. Though Furman itself was not dramatically affected, the regions surrounding the state experienced record amounts of rainfall and wind speeds, with tens of thousands of people across Greenville County losing power, and flash flood warnings appearing throughout the day in the mountains and low country all around Furman. Students who left were now asked to push through these dangerous conditions to be back on campus for Monday classes.
Once again, Furman fumbled in the face of severe weather, allowing their students to go home only to ask them to return on the day experts agreed was the most dangerous for our area. The committee who evaluates severe weather and makes these decisions seems incapable of considering the effects on those outside the 750-acre “Furman Bubble” that makes up campus. Instead, they take the approach that if it is not bad here, it must be fine everywhere else. Asking students to return on Sunday was negligent and reckless, completely negating the cancellations prior, and once again shows Furman needs to dramatically alter its approach to severe weather. Although Furman sent an email late Sunday telling students they could email professors to be excused, it was far too late for many who had already begun the journey back. Hopefully, after Florence, Furman has learned another valuable lesson, and perhaps next time they may finally get it right.