When Drexel President John Fry sat down with members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation in Washington on Oct. 1, there was no doubt what the first topic of conversation would be: the shutdown of the federal government, which went into effect that day.
Now, more than a week later, the shutdown is being felt in several ways by students, faculty and professional staff at Drexel. And University officials are watching as a potential government default approaches later this month, bringing with it the possibility of more far-reaching consequences.
So far, the shutdown has forced a delay in federal grant applications for Drexel researchers; shuttered a number of online information sources used by students and employees; and threatened to delay stipends for military-veteran or active-duty students.
“We’re sort of in uncharted territory, because these things don’t happen very often,” said Brian Keech, Drexel’s senior vice president for government and community relations.
Drexel’s government-relations officials are watching the developments in Washington with great concern, Keech said. When Fry made an already-scheduled visit to meet with senators and representatives earlier this month, Keech said, the shutdown was the first topic addressed each time.
The effects are already being felt by some Drexel researchers. Researchers can continue unabated with grant projects that have already been awarded, but federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation are not processing new grant proposals during the shutdown, even for projects with deadlines that have come and gone.
Drexel’s Office of Research Administration is asking researchers to continue with their grant proposals as if no shutdown had occurred, and to turn in their submissions to the office as usual when finished.
“We’ve done our very best to minimize the impact,” said Michael Edwards, senior associate vice provost for research.
The Research Administration office is preparing to handle the expected rush of new applications whenever the government is again up and running: Drexel submits around 1,200 federal grant proposals per year, and the University may already be as many as 50 proposals behind that pace since the shutdown went into effect.
“The longer it continues, the greater the flurry of activity will be,” Edwards said.
Meanwhile, a number of government websites and online information sources are unavailable during the shutdown, making resources such as Census data and the Library of Congress unavailable for research or other projects. Drexel Libraries last week released a list of agencies that have been affected, after receiving questions from researchers.
Most federal financial aid programs, including Pell grants and student loans, aren’t affected by the shutdown because they are funded by permanent appropriations.
But veterans or active-duty military students may experience delays with government stipends.
Elaine Varas, senior executive director of Drexel’s Student Financial Aid office, said she is concerned that some financial-aid programs could experience delays if the shutdown stretches on for much longer, because of staff furloughs at the U.S. Department of Education.
Another budget deadline looms next week: Oct. 17, when Congress may need to raise the government’s debt ceiling to avoid a default.
Keech said that the default that might occur shortly after that deadline could have far-reaching and hard-to-predict consequences for Drexel and other universities — for instance, funds and investments could be affected if Wall Street feels an impact.
But Keech said he and others expect that the problem is unlikely to stretch that far.
“Most of us in higher education are hopeful that this is a short-term problem that they’re going to resolve,” Keech said.