Friday, April 11, 2008

It's Minnesota. It snows 

There's approximately ten inches on the ground here today. The university chose not to cancel classes today, though several other colleges and most school districts did. It made for great hilarity to watch the campus email list burst to life with complaints about coming in and faculty canceling classes, etc.

A significant number of faculty, perhaps more than 10%, live in the Cities and drive the 70 miles to St. Cloud to teach. About the same number of students do as well; many others come in from the north, west and to a lesser extent the south. Unlike many places, we have our own meteorologist on staff (a delightful guy, fellow Boston sports fan) who provides to the public information used by the university in its decision whether to close the campus.

So there are two types of errors you can make. You can cancel school when it isn't necessary, and you can not cancel school when you should have. Your goal is to minimize the sum of the two types or errors. The faculty and staff, of course, prefer to close school. What about students? Some will already be here, in the dorms and living in nearby apartments. They lose a class if you close. Some additional students who did not look for a closure message will get in their cars and begin driving. The faculty from the Cities who came this morning said they had no idea it was bad here because I-94 was fine until the exit before the university exit ... at which point it went from clear to crappy without any intermediate conditions. The students were probably already coming here.

I've been here when they close the campus (for at least night classes) and you always see students who didn't get the message. And for them, a night class is once a week so canceling one is a significant part of the course. Do their costs count in deciding how to minimize both types of errors? Faculty and staff aren't the best judges of this -- they are much more vested in one type of error than the other.

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