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YANA PASKOVA/Herald photo

Students trekking to class through freezing winds and icy sidewalks Thursday evening may have been in for a surprise when they walked into an empty lecture hall.

With more than half a foot of snow on the ground and reports of continued snowfall, strong winds and "extremely hazardous travel conditions" coming from the National Weather Service yesterday afternoon, the University of Wisconsin cancelled all classes scheduled to begin after 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

"As far as we could tell, it was dangerous for people to travel and we decided not to force them to do so," UW Interim Provost Virginia Sapiro said in a phone interview after deciding to cancel late-afternoon and evening classes at approximately 1:30 p.m. yesterday, the first such cancellation since December 1990.

But Sapiro added that classes would resume today as normal, unless the weather forces the university to change its decision.

While the announcement to cancel evening classes saved some students from having to brave the blustery elements, other students and at least one professor were upset with how the university handled the decision.

UW physics professor Clint Sprott, who had an exam scheduled for his Physics 104 class yesterday evening, said the decision was not made clearly or in a timely manner.

"They really dropped the ball, in my opinion," Sprott said. "It's impossible to deal with it on such short notice. … It's really very annoying they waited so long to make a decision."

Sprott added he understood the original announcement as referring only to classes — not exams — and sent an e-mail to students saying the exam would be handed out as scheduled. In the e-mail, Sprott added that students facing "undue hardship or danger" would be excused.

Because the university was "still open for business," Sprott said, he assumed that exams could still be handed out, adding it is a "nightmare" to reschedule evening exams.

However, Sapiro said that because "exams are part of a class," they were included in the cancellation.

According to one of Sprott's students, Sprott sent out a second e-mail saying the exam was cancelled, but it was sent less than an hour before the test was scheduled to start.

"If we would've known at noon, it would've been easier," Sprott said.

Other students were also annoyed with the timing of the decision.

UW junior Billy Schwindt — who received an e-mail from his professor telling the class it "need[ed] to be in lecture" Thursday — said he thought the university should have called off all classes for the entire day.

"My hands are about to freeze off, it's slippery, my socks are soaking wet … I could've slipped and fallen," Schwindt said while walking back from class in the blizzard conditions. "I don't understand why they wouldn't just cancel class for the whole day."

UW junior Jenny Richter, a student in Sprott's physics class, agreed.

"Walking to my 8:50 class was a lot worse than it is right now," Richter said after she got the e-mail from Sprott saying the exam was cancelled. "I don't know why they would cancel the night classes and not the morning classes when [the weather's] worse."

Richter, who is also a building manager at Memorial Union, said the union would remain open for its normal hours despite the inclement weather.

While some people were upset with the announcement, Sapiro said she believed the decision to cancel evening classes gave many students an opportunity to pursue other activities.

"Obviously, studying and working on papers and going online to read journals and articles for their final papers," Sapiro said, when asked how she believed students would spend their night off. "What else would students be thinking of?"