Ethan Vaughan, Asst. News Editor

George Mason University’s closure policy is independent from that of area public schools, a fact that will come as no surprise to students who trudged to class in early February while Fairfax County classrooms were shut due to inclement weather.

While Mason was closed for four days during last week’s back-to-back blizzards, it often remains open even when road conditions make it difficult for some to come to class.

“Our priority is to stay open,” said Dan Walsch, George Mason University press secretary. “One would be hard-pressed to think of a time when we were closed for four days straight. ­­­We did have two days last semester during finals where we had to close, and I think there might have been one last year.”

Walsch said the university contends with many factors when choosing whether to close, including road conditions, campus navigability, input from police, county, and city officials and the financial impact on the school.

“There is a cost factor involved,” Walsch said. “It involves paying overtime and double time for some employees. There are about 5,000 people living on campus, and they need to be fed. That doesn’t change just because we’re closed. There’s loss of revenue, too, and that varies based on how long we’re closed.”

Walsch emphasized that the fiscal component was not the university’s foremost motivator.

“Even though we know there may be some cost, the safety and well-being of our students and employees is the most important thing,” he said. “It’s a judgement call. There are some instances where not everybody will be happy.”

Walsch acknowledged the difficulty inclement weather posed to Mason’s roughly 25,000 commuters, but said their situation was different from that of public school students.

“In the case of public schools, the people on the road are school bus drivers under the employ of the schools,” Walsch said. “Other people are responsible for their own safety.”

Senior Vice President Maurice Scherrens, who along with Provost Peter Stearns is ultimately responsible for deciding whether or not the university will close or remain open, agreed.

“The issue with school busses is not merely the driving of the school bus, but . . . the loading and unloading of very young children on a very large vehicle,” Scherrens said. “And this is happening on side streets with the potential of slipping and sliding . . . [with] children in the vicinity of the bus and other nearby vehicles. I do know that historically the pattern of K-12 school systems in the area has been to close earlier and re-open later than the local colleges and universities.”

Scherrens conceded the fiscal effect on the school but insisted there was more involved than finances.

“The decision involves input from our staff, campus police, Parking Services, Traffic and Transportation, University Relations, Human Resources and regional campuses,” Scherrens said. “These individuals rely upon national and local weather reports and forecasts, as well as information from VDOT and Virginia State Police on local traffic and road conditions. The team provides up-to-date information on school closings in the area, as well as any delayed starts of federal government or local government jurisdictions. We give great weight to the physical condition of our campuses in terms of safety and clearing of the roads and the sidewalks.”

Overall, students expressed satisfaction with the university’s move to remain closed for most of last week.

“I think it was definitely justified,” opined senior conflict analysis and resolution major Chloe Briede. “The roads and sidewalks were really bad. You couldn’t even walk around campus.”