How the government shutdown affects students

The federal government shut down on October 1 and will remain closed until Congress can reach an agreement on how to manage the daily operations of the government. Educational institutions do not immediately come to mind when considering the negative impact of the shutdown. However, academia has already begun to take hits in the classrooms and the impact is discussed in the October 4, 2013 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Below is an excerpt from the article:

Federal Shutdown Hits the Classroom, Limiting Research and Fieldwork

By Lindsay Ellis

After Wednesday’s meeting of his research-methods class, Richard A. Williams, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, told students to light a candle in the university’s grotto, an outdoor stone hollow where community members pray, for the government shutdown to end soon. His request was in jest, but Mr. Williams said that the inconveniences brought by the government shutdown are affecting faculty members and students alike.

He and his students need U.S. census data for a project that he has assigned to classes for about a decade, but the Census Bureau’s Web site is unavailable because of the lapse in federal funds. Mr. Williams asks students in the class, which covers theory construction and data collection, to compare racial composition and economic status among neighborhoods or communities using census data in a final paper.

The effects of federal closures since the shutdown began, on Tuesday, have reached into a number of college classrooms like Mr. Williams’s. Faculty members have cited the absence of online information and the lack of access to national parks as among ways the shutdown is limiting research, data collection, and other forms of scholarship.

In some cases professors are urging their students to turn to old-fashioned methods—digging up books, photocopying pages, and asking librarians for help­—to find information for class assignments rather than wait for the government to reopen.

Thomas F. Wolff, associate dean of undergraduate studies at Michigan State University’s College of Engineering, is one teacher in a course on civil and environmental engineering. His class of about 60 undergraduates must create a site plan for an 8,000-student university in a designated area of Michigan, using information from the Department of Agriculture and the National Resources Conservation Service to find the best place to build.

On Wednesday a student approached Mr. Wolff, saying he could not get access to the data. Mr. Wolff extended a project deadline and then asked if students knew how to find the library. (They did.)

“In practice, all sorts of unexpected things happen, and you have to go to Plan B,” he said. “It was interesting and ironic that this reached all the way down to a routine homework assignment.”

Kathleen A. Nicoll, an associate professor of geography at the University of Utah, said the shutdown showed that members of Congress did not understand how vital government agencies are to students’ education.

Ms. Nicoll, who is on sabbatical, said her colleagues had reported stark differences in their classroom experiences since the shutdown. Professors cannot, for example, provide the latest data in daily lectures.

“This is creating an environment where, in my mind, academics are not able to do our jobs,” she said, “even though we’re not federal employees.”

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