Students’ mental health is emerging as a major issue as the University of Kentucky faculty strike looms

A ballooning mental health crisis affecting college students across the country has become a focal point in stalled faculty contract negotiations at the University of Illinois Chicago.

College union members threatening to strike on Tuesday are demanding wage increases in part to compensate for the higher workloads they say have resulted from the increased mental health needs of their students. They also ask the university to provide free psychological and neurological tests for struggling students.

“Right now, the faculty at UIC is recruiting for it… I’m not trained in how to support these students. I’m not certified in that,” said Charitian Williams, a senior lecturer who works as a communications officer for her union. “I have a degree in English.”

Strikes and threats to strike are common on public universities in Illinois. Faculty members at the University of Illinois’ three campuses have gone on strike in the past decade. What is unusual is the focus on students’ mental health and how it affects faculty members’ ability to do their jobs.

Mental health among college students was already heading toward a breaking point before the pandemic hit. Then the courses moved online and students faced increasing isolation and anxiety. according to A national survey called the Healthy Minds StudyPost-pandemic, the majority of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem.

“The mental health of the students is the poorest I have ever seen [sic] “My career is at UCLA, I started there as a graduate student in 2001,” said Williams.

The majority of United College’s 900 members voted to strike if no agreement could be reached with the university administration. The final bargaining session is set for Thursday afternoon.

As of Tuesday, there was a discrepancy of about $10,000 between the minimum wage required by the union and what management has put on the table, according to the faculty union.

In addition to a pay increase, members of the UIC faculty union want to provide free testing for conditions such as ADHD, autism and depression to students who have not previously been tested or diagnosed and who are in significant academic distress. This service is currently offered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Faculty involved in the negotiations say university leaders have told them that contract negotiations are not the place to solve student problems. State law allows public university officials to refuse to compromise anything that is not related to compensation or working conditions.

The university did not respond to a request for comment. The statement posted on UIC’s website addresses the issue of faculty salaries, but not student mental health support: “This kind of salary obligation—without a significant increase in state appropriations or in revenues for undergraduate education—will result in severe deficits in both faculties and cause financial hardship.” great across the university.”

College union negotiators maintain that student mental health does not affect working conditions. Kate Florus, a professor of political science at UIC, said she spends a great deal of time accommodating her students, from those who need to immerse themselves in work, to those who need to reschedule all of their exams as a result of mental health challenges.

“Because the students have such different needs, it’s like creating individual plans,” she said.

Williams said she had to study how best to support her students, which added hours of work to her weekly schedule.

“I have students who collapse regularly, and it’s not just in my office anymore,” she said. “It was like, the student was having a hard time, and they would keep their stiff upper lip so we could have our privacy. But now, the students are confused sometimes…they will start crying in class.”

She said this leads to a halt in learning.

“All of that material has to be delivered in a different way, at a different time, in a different order,” she said. “And then I have to support that student, and I have to support the students around them because maybe those other students feel the same way.”

The UIC faculty union’s push to support students’ mental health reflects a rise in the social union movement on universities across the United States and Canada, according to Tim Cain, associate professor of higher education at the University of Georgia.

“There is a broader push to improve the conditions of not just union members, but those of institutions and the larger community,” he said.

Kane said that if students’ circumstances affect faculty working conditions, then it can be shown that they should be part of contract negotiations.

“If I’m spending my time as an untrained counselor to students, trying to help…navigate missed class assignments and deal with other mental stresses, which is affecting my job and making my job more difficult, it’s a working condition,” he said. “And [the] Management might say, “Well, no, that’s right here, and it’s left out of bargaining.” “

Members of the UIC faculty consortium have been in talks with university administrators since last spring. Their 2019 contract expired in August. It was signed the day before the faculty exited.

Lisa Phillip covers higher education for WBEZ, in partnership with Campus opening.

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