Blogconfidential: Cold comfort in the Gulag

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: Cold comfort in the Gulag

December 23, 2010

There has been terrible weather lately and it's been like a game of Russian roulette trying to decide whether or not to go into work. One day last week I checked the university website. Despite a foot of snow, there was nothing about the university being closed.

The journey took me just over an hour on foot. The only vehicles on the road were 4x4s. But when I got in, I quickly discovered that I was the only person in the school. After turning on my computer, I realised that an email had been sent out after I left home, announcing that the university would not be open that day. As I was leaving - before 10am - I bumped into a handful of others walking in. We were all irate at the pathetic organisation.

The following day, conditions were arguably worse. I turned on my computer at 7am and, miracle of miracles, there was a message: "All staff and students should endeavour to get into the university but should not put themselves at risk."

Ever dutiful, I walked into work. Yet again, the place was generally deserted. Since the central heating is unreliable, one of three colleagues in the department who had made it in had brought a fan heater from home. We made a drink and huddled round.

A few minutes later, a security officer popped his head around the door and explained that we could not use the heater because it had not been checked. My colleague told him jokingly that he would fight for it, eliciting a chuckle from us as the officer walked away.

But that was not the end of it. Later in the morning, the dean entered our office, claimed that the security officer had felt threatened and demanded that we turn off the heater. His coup de grâce: the university was going to close at lunchtime. So, after working in the cold for two hours, we were kicked out.

I know there are bigger problems in higher education at the moment, but we feel it would be wrong to let the university off the hook for the disgraceful chaos. Are we right?

It's understandable that you are annoyed; indeed, I have had several similar experiences these past few weeks, including ineffective communication about the weather, cold offices and complete ingratitude on the part of the university authorities about their staff's heroic attempts to get into work in these kind of weather conditions.

Yes, you are right. You need to press your university authorities to take responsibility and make sure there is a clear bad-weather policy in effect by the new year.

It is hard to understand why they find it so difficult to tell their staff clearly where they stand in adverse weather conditions.

Come on senior managers, get your act together - make decisions and fix the bloody heating! Is that too much to ask?

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