The University of New Brunswick is facing criticism for tweeting an image of a crying child in response to a student's comment that the school should have been closed during a snow storm Thursday.
The image was sent in response to Paige Kynock's comment that it was a "sad moment" when the New Brunswick Community College located on essentially the same campus closed, but UNB and adjoining St. Thomas University remained open.
The storm had brought 17 centimetres of snow to the city by 4 p.m. AT.
Public schools in the Fredericton area were closed Thursday due to the storm.
In an e-mail to CBC, UNB's communications office said the post of the crying girl — Boo from the Pixar film Monster's Inc. — was meant to make light of the situation and "express that we are all sad about the snow, given this week's extraordinary weather events."
"If it was misinterpreted in any way, we apologize. It was certainly not intended to offend anyone."
Several people, many of them students, disagreed.
"Hope you take a long look at this reply if a student goes off the road today while trying to get to class," one Twitter user replied, calling the university's response unprofessional.
Another person sarcastically said their tuition dollars were put to good use if the university calls safety a top concern but then puts up posts making fun of students.
Marie Meade, a student at St. Thomas University, told CBC that UNB should have delayed the opening of the university.
Not closing when the roads are bad puts the safety of the students at risk, many of whom feel obligated to go to class "whether by the difficulty of catching up on missed material or strict attendance policies," she said.
"Using a GIF of a toddler having a temper tantrum is not an appropriate way to respond to a student who has legitimate concerns," she said.
UNB wants to keep tone light
UNB said reactions to the storm and subsequent decisions made regarding university closures always generate a lot of feedback.
"Our social media team do their best to answer all inquiries and provide information as requested," it said in the email.
"We try to keep the tone of our accounts light and conversational, even when conversations are challenging."
Making the call
Explaining the decision not to close on Thursday, communications director Sonya Gilks said in an email that the university develops a storm plan when adverse weather conditions are forecasted. These plans are based on when the storm will begin, when the heaviest snow is expected to fall, and when equipment is available to clear the roads and campus areas, she said.
The decision on closure is made before 6 a.m.
She said that by 5:30 a.m. Thursday, "only about two to three centimetres had fallen and campus was clear and ready for traffic."
"The most recent forecast we had available at the time indicated the worst of the storm would pass to the south of Fredericton and we would see less than 15 cm snow."
She added that the decision to close campus is never easy and the safety of students and staff is key.
"If someone does not feel it's safe to travel, they need to make the decision not to travel," she said.
@PaigeK614 We didn’t intend to be disrespectful. We’re all sad about the snow. Let your profs know if you can't make it to campus.— @UNBFredericton
Kynock said she was amazed by how many people reacted to the situation. She added that she thought the university's response was "a little strange."
"But I don't think it was meant to be harmful," she said.
"I think it would have been wise for school to be cancelled, or at least a late start. The RCMP were asking people to stay home."
And not everyone thought the image of Boo was disrespectful.
The tweet garnered dozens of likes and some people spoke up on Twitter in the university's defense.
"It means they're sad too. It wasn't a mocking cry," one person wrote.