While the shutdown has had little direct effect on students and others in academia, the result of this week’s Congressional brinkmanship is affecting the ability of students and faculty to go about their normal routines.
For example, Inside Higher Ed reports that a wide range of academic research across the country, from sophisticated biomedical experiments at the National Institutes of Health to undergraduate political science essays, was interrupted as the federal government shutdown continued with no clear path to a resolution.
In addition to forcing the closure of government buildings where research is conducted — such as the Library of Congress and presidential libraries — the shutdown was also cutting off access to myriad electronic resources on which many researchers depend. Websites that were not operational included those of the Library of Congress, the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Science Foundation, the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Education Department’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences.
PubMed, a free repository of biomedical and life science research maintained by the National Institutes of Health, was operational but a notice on the site warned users that it would not be updated during the shutdown.
The shutdown was also affecting academic gatherings in Washington and elsewhere in the country. It’s unclear whether a digital humanities conference sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities that is scheduled for Friday will happen. But the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities on Wednesday announced that it planned to host an alternative “unconference” at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus for scholars who were planning on presenting at the NEH meeting.
The Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science reported that the shutdown was disrupting its annual conference, being held in Austin, Texas this week. More than a dozen students, 27 conference speakers and 38 conference exhibitors were forced to cancel their attendance because they are affiliated with or were sponsored by federal agencies.
Elsewhere academic researchers at all levels — from postdoctoral researchers to college freshmen — took to social media, such as Twitter and Reddit, to
lament the loss of electronic government resources, from U.S. Census Bureau datasets to Department of Agriculture information to Education Department statistics about schools. Also offline because of the shutdown were the servers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, upon which scientists like Michael L. Hutchins depend for weather and climate data not available elsewhere.
The shutdown stopped new research grants at the NIH, NSF, and other federal agencies, though research that had already been funded and did not require use of federal facilities or personnel was largely continuing. Intramural research at the NIH was also mostly frozen and the agency’s medical center in Bethesda, Md. was not admitting new patients to clinical trials.
Seizing on the public perception problem of children with cancer being denied care, House Republicans on Wednesday sought to fully restore NIH operations by introducing a stopgap funding bill to fund the agency until mid-December. The House approved the measure Wednesday night on a 254 to 171 vote. But the bill stands little chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where leaders have said they would not vote to allow Republicans to reopen the government on a piecemeal basis. Democrats are pushing for a vote in the House on a stopgap funding bill that would restore funding to the entire government but doesn’t include the provision defunding President Obama’s health care law that many House Republicans want. The White House also threatened to veto the NIH funding measure, as well as three other Republican-sponsored bills to cover funding for the District of Columbia’s operating budget, national parks and museums, and veterans’ benefits.