If you found yourself cheering or fist pumping when you heard the news last Tuesday that the university was closing at 2 p.m., then you have Dick Campbell to thank.
Campbell, USM’s chief financial officer, decides when the university closes for weather. But it’s not a duty he relishes.
“It’s the part of the job I like the least and is in some ways the most difficult. You’re trying to predict what will happen,” said Campbell. “I’m concerned about people’s safety and no matter what decision you make it may have some adverse implications for individuals.
“Based on the phone calls and response, I’ve never made the right decision.”
Campbell, who has been deciding school cancellations for 13 years at USM and the University of Maine at Augusta, said he receives a fair number of negative calls and often these are a result of differing weather conditions between the campus and people’s homes. Although USM President Selma Botman has to approve the decision, Campbell can’t recall a time ever being overturned.
That doesn’t mean Campbell makes the decision on his own though.
The university has a meteorologist on retainer through Precision Weather Service, a company that provides weather predictions for a host of different clients, costing USM under $500 a year, according to Campbell. Along with consulting with Russ Murley, the meteorologist USM works with from the service, Campbell speaks with Bob Bertram, director of facilities management, and other local college and school administrators, among other sources, before making a final decision.
Campbell get updates from Murley about storms before they arrive and a phone call from Murley between 4:30-5 a.m. for a report on all of the campuses.
They look at the type of precipitation, severity of the storm, time of day and other factors, while tracking the storm and judging if it’s safe to drive.
If he decides to close the university, Campbell notifies Bob Caswell or Judie O’Malley from the Office of Public Affairs, who in turn contact the radio and television stations and update the university website. USM Public Safety is notified and sends out the text alert many students receive.
Nancy Austin, director of telecommunications and card services, records the message on the storm line at 780-4800 if the university closes. She said she usually will get a call before 5:30 a.m. from Campbell. “Once in a while it wakes me up, but I’m usually up at that time,” Austin said.
Campbell said a major factor in whether to cancel classes for a storm is the safety of the buses driving between Portland and Gorham. When classes aren’t in session Campbell looks to see if employees can make the commute.
But even if the university is open, he said people should still pay attention to their local conditions. “We tell employees and students to use their own judgment,” said Campbell. If they can’t travel from where they are, he said the university typically can make accommodations.
“There aren’t decisions that are going to fit for everybody, but we try to to communicate effectively and we can to make sure what we’re doing is safe,” he said.
A couple of snow storms last week caused afternoon classes to be canceled on Jan. 18 and the university to close on Jan. 21. Campbell said they try to make the decision at least two hours before classes. “A lot of our students drive quite a distance. You’ve got to make the decision early enough so people can receive the message,” said Campbell.