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Government shutdown hampers some UNT faculty

Government shutdown hampers some UNT faculty

Government shutdown hampers some UNT faculty
October 22
09:10 2013

Joshua Knopp / Staff Writer

Though the federal government’s shutdown ended last week, many UNT professors are still dealing with the consequences.

For 16 days, the government didn’t have a budget, and all nonessential spending and activity was frozen. On Oct. 17, officials came to a temporary solution that extends spending to Jan. 15, at which point the government could shut down again.

The lack of government activity hampered research, delayed deadlines and could even damage one professor’s career. Biology department chair Sam Atkinson said one of his professors who is currently up for tenure didn’t get a review in because of the shutdown.

When considering a candidate for tenure, the university policy is to get five researchers’ opinions in the candidate’s field, which will sometimes include scientists who work at national labs, Atkinson said.

Sam Atkinson

Sam Atkinson

A tenure candidate is now one review short because the person evaluating the professor was locked out of his office until the shutdown ended. Atkinson declined to identify the tenure candidate for confidentiality purposes.

“My deadline to submit departmental applications to the dean was [Oct. 18], and I currently don’t have all of my external reviews,” Atkinson said. “The government shuts down and a faculty member, who went to school for years and then struggled through a five-year probationary period at a university, may not get tenure because of lack of external reviews? Could have devastating consequences.”

The shutdown also stalled the federally funded research process. Biology professor James Kennedy said federal funding for research starts with the government requesting proposals on a given topic.

Universities and research teams send in proposals, and another team of scientists then evaluates the proposals. After evaluation, the federal grant office selects a proposal to fund.

During the shutdown, nothing in this process happened. The government wouldn’t accept proposals or send out grant money.

While not all research is funded by the government, a significant number of UNT’s proposals and research groups were affected.

Physics professor Arup Neogi said he had to pay more than $10,000 to take himself, a colleague and a student to a National Science Foundation program to present the student’s research. They were one of 20 teams in the nation who were approved to attend.

Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences Floyd McDaniel said federal grants don’t always come in on time anyway, and the university has a rainy day fund for professors who need help with out-of-pocket expenses while waiting to be reimbursed.

“It’s all computerized now. We know every nickel that gets spent,” McDaniel said. “The federal government has been doing this for years now. We’re pretty confident the government will recover this.”

Floyd McDaniel

Floyd McDaniel

McDaniel said he believes all the money will be reimbursed as the government starts up again.

Neogi drew on the university’s resources and expects to be reimbursed by the National Science Foundation before long, but he does not know Besides cutting off funding, research that relied on government offices for help was also held up.

Associate sociology professor Cynthia Cready is researching college choices for Hispanic students and whether or not proximity to home plays a role in their decision.

For her research, she’s using protected information about financial aid for 2008 freshmen. Cready’s office moved during the shutdown, but she needs government permission to move that data with her.

Although this was only an inconvenience because she could still access her old office, Cready will need to get permission again to publish her findings.

“We have to get permission from the agency to distribute the information,” she said. “If they had been closed for an extended period of time, we would have missed the opportunity.”

Cready expects to receive permission to move the data to her new office soon. Though the deadline for her research might be hampered if the government shuts down again in January, she said she will work hard to be done before that can happen.

“It’s really kind of a wake-up call,” Cready said. “You don’t realize how dependent you are until it isn’t there.”

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