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Evaporation of CARE Team is latest example of PSU Admin’s misplaced spending priorities

July 28, 2022 / PSU-AAUP

Let's start out by reviewing exactly what the PSU CARE Team is responsible for, from the Office of Academic Affairs website:

CARE connects students with resources when they are experiencing distress and/or other issues that might impact their ability to function at their best in and outside of the classroom. The CARE Team is a multidisciplinary group that meets weekly to discuss ways to support complex student cases such as, but not limited to:

  • Suicidal ideation or attempts
  • Activities or events that may impact the campus and/or surrounding community
  • Activities or events that may impact a student’s ability to stay in school

In addition to responding to crises, the CARE case manager takes steps to help support students before problems arise or issues become more complicated such as:

  • Medical emergencies and communicating with faculty
  • Food and/or housing insecurity
  • Mental health challenges

In discussing their responsibilities with numerous persons involved in or aware of the CARE Team’s work, we have been told that the work outlined above also extends to domestic violence threats and/or expressions of homicidal ideation. We are also told that this work is – as you might imagine – so stressful that many of those involved have needed to seek out counseling themselves.

Given the critical importance of this work for students’ physical safety, mental health, and academic success … how is it that PSU Administration could allow this team to, in essence, fall apart? And at a time when students need these supports more than ever?

Faculty and staff were recently sent an email alerting them that the CARE Team is simply not functioning this summer due to “staffing issues.”

What does “staffing issues” really mean? So many Academic Professionals have resigned from key positions in the past few months that the CARE Team is essentially unable to function.
Why have we lost these crucial, experienced professionals?

  • Poor pay
  • Persistent, years-long understaffing leading to untenable workloads
  • Lack of a career path
  • High mental and emotional stress, with little or no institutional/Admin support

Persistent understaffing and lack of funding
We have seen evidence of at least 2 persons who resigned because they felt they could no longer in good conscience participate in “pretending” to offer services and support that they were, in fact, unable to offer due to understaffing and a lack of funding.

Looking at just the past 2 years, unique cases handled by the CARE Team in AY 2020-21 numbered over 1,200. Thus far in 2021-22, there have been more than 1,300 unique cases. Caseloads for the two years prior to that were almost as high. Yet for years (before and during the pandemic), there has been just one case manager for some 400 high needs, urgent cases per term.

While there may technically be a CARE Team in operation right now (essentially consisting of referrals to outside services), having lost essential Academic Professionals, it is impossible to support students with the wraparound services that the CARE program is supposed to provide. 

At this point, there are also serious questions about liability and reporting violations. So far as we are able to ascertain, there is still no case manager and no staff member handling code of conduct cases.

As discussed in the July 14th Member News, the Administration’s own Huron report called out PSU’s inordinately high spending on a dense and duplicative administrative structure. Put more bluntly: administrative bloat. Professor Howard Bunsis’s analysis demonstrated the same problem.

The failure to support and properly staff the CARE Team is perhaps the most tragic example of the impact of Admin’s misplaced spending priorities. In the end, students suffer. Student services such as CARE are an essential part of supporting students so that they can be academically successful, persist, and graduate.

Admin spending priorities must change. Today.

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