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2013 Fall Issue 4 (October 18, 2013)

Academic Shutdown: Government Shutdown Reaches Carleton, Affects Comps Research

October 18, 2013
By Hart Hornor

Few Carleton students found themselves out of work when the government shut down on Oct. 1. Some, however, found themselves out of a comps project.

Senior Milana Socha planned to use data from the U.S. Geological Society for her study of mussel shells in the Cannon River. But when she visited the U.S.G.S. website this month, she found only information about earthquakes and volcanoes--information deemed necessary for safety. The data she would need for her project--records of temperature and water quality in the river--were unavailable.

Her reaction? “Relief,” she said. “I’m lucky that I don’t need it right now. But I feel bad for some of my friends.”

Although the government shutdown, which lasted more than two weeks, had little effect on Student Financial Services, TRIO, Off-Campus Studies, and other Carleton offices that depend on federal money and visas, it hindered students’ ability to do research. 

“We’re seeing a lot of frustration from students,” Reference Librarian Danya Leebaw said last week. Several students, like Socha, need data from the Census Bureau, the Department of Education, the U.S.G.S or other agencies that post data on websites that are now inaccessible. “I’ve heard of some students who’ve changed their [comps] topics already,” Leebaw said. “They’re at that critical point of making decisions and needing to know if data are available.”

Some students dealt with downed government sites by looking elsewhere for data. They could, for instance, find geological maps among the library’s collection of printed documents. But these maps are more than 10 years old, Leebaw said. “A huge percentage of government information is only published online now.”

Students could also look for data published in secondary sources. But this isn’t a great solution either, Leebaw said. Scholarly articles often tailor data to support a specific argument, or they don’t explain definitions and margins of error. Because of the shutdown, however, students who needed data for classes or comps projects didn’t have much choice.

Meanwhile in the Chemistry department, students who hoped to do research in graduate school couldn’t apply for National Science Foundation fellowships. The fellowship application, due Nov. 14, was down along with the rest of the N.S.F. website.

Still, many Carleton students weren’t affected at all. They can thank the shutdown’s briefness for this. Had the shutdown continued into January, many students wouldn’t have received federal loans, said Rodney Oto, the director of student financial services. This is because loans are divided into thirds and paid at the beginning of each term. If, at the beginning of next term, the government were shut down, Carleton would have had to decide between holding students responsible for their missing funds or covering for them. But if the shutdown had lasted that long, he said, there would have been bigger concerns than financial aid--like a tanked economy.    

In the Carleton bubble, students are emerging from the shutdown mostly unscathed. But elsewhere, people haven’t been so lucky. Sophomore Anna Guasco realizes this more than others.

When the government shut down, Guasco was one of the first Carleton students to know. An email from the Department of the Interior told her she was on furlough. Although active as a park ranger only in the summer, she’s officially a permanent employee at Channel Islands National Park in California.   

“It was a little bit surreal,” she said. “It doesn’t make that much of a difference for me, but [...] I know people who are going to have trouble making their rent this month.”

She tried to email her boss. “I just wanted to let her know that I hoped everyone would be able to go back to work soon,” she said. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to access her government email.  

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