Students at Town Hall Meeting Express Concerns about Mental Health Resources

Panel listens as Samantha Chiang speaks to them during the townhall meeting

At a Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday night on the UC Davis campus, a number of students expressed concerns about the use of funds they say were meant for mental health resources and counselors.  UC Davis posted the results of two audit reports. Both, while raising questions, appear to show funds expended appropriately.

One audit looking at the expenditure of student fees concluded, “With minor exceptions, our high-level review of expenditures determined that funds have been expended appropriately according to the policies, guidelines, and referenda governing the fees.”

At the same time, they noted that “the governance and management structure for the oversight of these fees could be strengthened, particularly with respect to the role of the COSAF [Council on Student Affairs and Fees] and ensuring separation of responsibility for allocation of funds and expenditure of funds.”

They also add, “Finally, we observed that the campus has no policy or guidelines for the management of accumulated reserves for student fees or comprehensive, long-term plans for the expenditure of those reserves. We also noted that, to be compliant with SASI [Student Activities and Services Initiative] reserve guidelines, Intercollegiate Athletics would need to establish an operating reserve of $275,000.”

With respect to the counseling services, they conclude, that “uses of MHF [Mental Health Fee] and SSF [Student Services Fee] funds earmarked for Counseling Services were generally appropriate. We did, however, note that the use of $250,000 Students Express Concerns About Mental Health Resources at Town Hall Meeting in MHF funds annually (6% of total appropriations for FY 2017) to support Case Manager FTEs in Student Judicial Affairs
and the Student Disability Center may be inconsistent with non-binding guidance provided by UCOP [University of California Office of the President].”

That is the key language picked up by students and a California Aggie article, many of whom believe that money should go to hiring more counselors.

On Tuesday, Shradha Shah, Policy Advocacy Officer for the Student Mental Health coalition, spoke at the town hall meeting with a prepared statement.  “It is not secret that mental health crises are a real issue in our society today,” she said.  “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.”

A survey from 2015 found that “40 percent of undergraduates at UC Davis felt so depressed that they could not function on a daily basis.  12 percent had also reported that they had seriously contemplated suicide.”

Ms. Shah said, “To address these issues in 2015, UC Davis Student Affairs committed to having a net increase of 11 to 12 counselors by the end of fiscal year 2017.  We are in 2018, and a recent audit has shown that this commitment has yet to be fulfilled.”

She said “this mental health system is ours, we have already paid for it, and despite rising tuition costs we have yet to see additional mental health care support.”

She then read from a petition signed by over 1000 students with numerous students in attendance rising in support.

Samantha Chiang co-authored the petition.  She said, “This is for the students who can’t get appointments.”  They muster up the courage to come in, “only to be told that the next available appointment is three weeks out.  So they call in for day-of appointments at 8:05 am, only to be told that they were all booked a minute ago.  They have to try again the next day.  And they try, and try, and try.  Until it is 10 days later and they might as well have taken (the) appointment from before, but now it’s too late, so they give up.

“It’s for the students who need to schedule their panic attacks because they can only get seen five times a quarter if they’re lucky,” she said.  “So they need to assess which mental health breakdowns merit an appointment and which ones need to be buried deep, filed away for trauma to deal with later.”

She said, “Instead of medicine, students pop other pills.”

One of the panelists responded, “We agree with you, we are here because we want to expand access.  We want to provide you with the services that you should have.  We want the same thing.  We are going to work toward it with you.”

Another student said that she just transferred last quarter and is need of counseling services, “but it has been so hard to get an appointment here.”  She said, “If you already have anxiety it’s already hard to pick up the phone call… and ask for an appointment.  I feel like Davis makes it even harder by being inaccessible and difficult to get an appointment.”

The panelist responded, “That highlights what we want to work on.  We want to improve access and availability of appointments for students.”  She later explained, “We do have a commitment to those positions.  I don’t believe that the commitment of the 11 positions at the time was made on assumptions that did come true.  That was banking on having enrollment increase which did not happen and that was forecasted.  But the UCOP initiative is continuing over the next few years and we do have the UCOP commitment for the three positions that we have earmarked for positions.  That’s all I can say.”

Another panelist explained that those 11 positions were based on certain assumptions of enrollment growth.  Some of those positions were going to be covered by other funding types.  “Many assumptions were taking place at that time to come up with the 11 FTE [full-time equivalent] counselor positions that you see in the audit,” he said.  He noted that they have already filled the 2.2 FTE psychiatrist positions.

According to the audit report, “Agreements made with senior leadership for Counseling Services staffing levels have not been accomplished, and might need to be realigned in respect to current staffing and funding realities.”

It notes that counseling services employed 28 counselor FTEs in January 2016.  “At that time the Provost documented an agreement with the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs to add 11 new FTEs by the end of FY 2017. In response, SHCS [Student Health and Counseling Services] hired approximately 10 counselors on a contract basis. These positions were intended temporarily to satisfy general under-met student need while SHCS conducted recruitments for career positions targeted to serve specific student demographics. In FY 2016 and FY 2017, SHCS also completed a number of career recruitments, but experienced an unexpected amount of turnover.”

However, the audit notes, “Only one of the 10 employment contracts was renewed past June 2017. SHCS and Counseling Services agreed to prioritize recruitment for targeted positions, which would have been hindered by long-term obligations to the contract staff.”

Aaron Latta, reading a statement from the Davis College Democrats Mental Health Caucus, said the university needs to understand that there are many student organizations working on this issue, “and when the university lies to us, and ends up doing the exact opposite of what they told us they were going to do, it makes us all look bad.”

He noted that he goes to the city council to ask for more student housing, “now how can I tell them that the administration is going to be a faithful partner when they aren’t even willing to provide the funds in the right areas and fulfill their work.  This cannot be swept under the rug.”

The audit recommends that the SHCS and Counseling Services should meet with BIA (Budget and Institutional Analysis) “to develop a new recruitment and funding plan for achieving a suitable number of counselor positions within a reasonable period of time. Because student enrollment continues to grow, the absolute numbers originally communicated by the Provost may need to be reconsidered in light of relevant benchmarks.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. Howard P


    If students are paying for MH services, they should be provided…

    I personally know of three UC grads, both identified as “gifted” early on, who had undiagnosed issues… one had what they call a “nervous breakdown” age 23… another, where the symptoms were evident, got thru law school, then exhibited self-destructive behavior… age 25. Another actually took his own life @ age 22. [my error…the latter did not graduate… he was dead]

    End of facts, now opinion…

    Let’s go back to first point (fact)… bi-polar issues usually present in late teens to middle 20’s… particularly in males… there are other MH issues… ‘anxiety disorder’ [with or without ‘panic’], depression, etc.

    All can be addressed [not necessarily ‘cured’ ] with screening, and sometimes with counselling, sometimes with meds, and sometimes with both.

    Otherwise, without identification and treatment, there is the problem of “self-medication”… alcohol or other drugs.

    If the students are paying for intervention/treatment, they should be getting it… or, remove those fees, and let them and other resources attempt to deal with it… UC/UCD should not have it “both ways”… get the $, then not deal with the issues…

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