Government Shutdown Affects Students

Sean Gannon, Staff Reporter

America’s longest government shutdown ended on Jan. 25 when President Trump signed a bill to temporarily reopen the government. The president finally submitted to mounting pressures and public disapproval, balking on his demand for wall funding before opening the government.

The deal will fund the government until Feb. 15, 2019, but saves no money for a border wall. If an agreement with Congress to fund a barrier isn’t met before the deadline, President Trump promises to declare a national emergency or reclose the government.

A declaration of emergency would in theory let the president redirect funds for a border wall, but would face immediate resistance in courts and have little effect on Whitman college. On the other hand, a second government shutdown would revive the pains of the first and further impact Whitman students and professors.

Many students rely on federal paychecks and loans, some delayed by the shutdown, for tuition payments. “We couldn’t quite pay my tuition on time so I wasn’t able to change my class schedule around,” Helena Zindel said, a second-year, whose family counts on a federal loan to help pay tuition.

The shutdown’s timing was especially unfortunate for students who struggled to pay for textbooks, tuition installments and other expenses that accompany the start of a new semester.

The shutdown’s uncertainties also brought more pervasive anxieties. Zindel’s father is a federal public defender in Sacramento. Despite the shutdown, he continued to work but feared he would miss paychecks. “I think the real impact it had on my family is just stress, because it’s pretty scary to not know if you’re going to get paid,” Zindel said. Her father is certain another shutdown is coming, but she feels optimistic.

Luckily, most Outdoor Program spring trips were unaffected by the shutdown, OP Trip Coordinator Gaby Thomas explained, as trips usually go to state parks.

Unlike National Parks, state parks rely on state-funding and were open throughout the shutdown.

However, the OP department had to cancel their backcountry Wing Ridge Ski trip in the Wallowas since permits would be delayed by the shutdown. “We didn’t feel it would be an environmentally or socially conscious decision to use the land without a permit,” Thomas said, concerned about reports of damaged national parks.

The prospect of an upcoming shutdown has also complicated OP trip planning.

“The trips program will face the most pushback when applying for permits in national forests, like the Wallowas,” Thomas said. “We are trying to get all the applications in before the anticipated shutdown.”

Beginning when Whitman was on break, the lengthy shutdown offered teaching challenges and opportunities for professors starting the new semester.

“When you’re dealing with economics or empirical work, the shutdown has an impact because we work with government data,” Professor Pete Parcells said. Government research bodies suspended collection during the shutdown, forgoing a quarter’s worth of research that some Whitman professors use for teaching.

“The shutdown also gave some interesting examples,” Professor Parcells said, referencing his lesson on the federal budget in his Principles of Macroeconomics course. “When the government’s not working all the sudden the budget doesn’t make sense anymore,” he said, suggesting a mismatch between economic theory and our government realities.

Professor Parcells also noticed students’ lack of interest in the shutdown. As academic adviser to Whitman Investing Company, he wished student-presenters focused more on the shutdown’s impacts on the economy.

Professor Parcells believes the shutdown may have garnered more attention if it began while class was in session and hesitantly expects more discussion if there’s another.

But interviewees questioned students’ basic interest in the shutdown, finding them uninformed.

“I don’t think anybody here really paid attention to it,” Zindel said. “They weren’t really aware of what was going on.”

Parcells thought students were “pretty naive about the whole thing.”

Emma Philbrook, head of College Republicans, was surprised she didn’t hear more about the shutdown compared to President Trump’s other policy issues.

The shutdown has clearly seen less campus attention than more immediate political headlines like the Kavanaugh hearings, but it’s effects have been subtly pervasive and even more pernicious for some students. A second shutdown could exacerbate those troubles and earn more campus discussion.