Data from Purdue's Counseling and Psychological Services found student demand for mental-health resources was down, and University Senate members expressed their concern over Purdue's child-care plans during its monthly meeting on Monday.
Mental health data
Data collected from CAPS showed that there was a decrease in demand from students by 20% from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020, according to Katie Sermersheim, associate vice provost and dean of students.
“Interestingly enough our numbers are down in the number of students seeking mental health services on campus,” she said.
Sermersheim said the data is counterintuitive to what she imagined would happen, noting that in a pandemic where there is added stress and isolation, one might expect higher need for mental-health resources. She said that from conversations with other Big 10 universities it has been shown that this trend is not specific to only Purdue, and they are working to understand why this might be the case.
Beth McCuskey, vice provost for student life, said despite the lower numbers in that area, COVID-19 has given CAPS and other mental-health resources at Purdue a better chance to tap into tele-health opportunities.
“I think for students to access remotely has been helpful,” McCuskey said about virtual mental-health resources. “Not everybody wants to do that, and there's absolutely value in doing things in person, so I suspect that we'll have some hybrid approach down the road.”
She said CAPS has been able to recruit new therapists to serve underrepresented populations on campus during this time, like students of color, because of the tele-health opportunities.
The importance of child care for faculty and staff was stressed during the senate meeting Monday.
Multiple professors shared stories from their lives, whether they had children who require child care or not, in support of the University finding ways to improve its child-care capabilities.
The senate will vote on a motion in March that will symbolically show support and encourage Purdue and the Purdue Research Foundation to find ways to expand child care.
“Availability of child care remains a critical factor in promoting employment equity and also constitutes a significant opportunity for recruitment and retention of faculty and staff,” the proposal reads.
This motion comes after Purdue recently announced it would be getting rid of Patty Jishke Early Care Center, but later retracted that announcement after it received backlash from faculty and staff. This proposal would encourage the University to ensure that child care is readily available for employees.
Provost Jay Akridge addressed the faculty concerns, saying that after the pandemic calms down the University does have plans to assess child-care needs, and that it has made a commitment to growing child care over time.
“We might argue that Purdue should not be in the child-care business,” professor Alexander Francis said, “but I would say that building an outstanding top quality child-care system in the West Lafayette area is something that Purdue is actually uniquely suited to do.”
Francis said that there is no downside to Purdue expanding its child-care opportunities, citing how increased opportunities for child care around campus would be a positive attribute for the University when trying to recruit new faculty members.
“I don't see this as anything we can lose with,” he said.
Other faculty members chimed in with examples from their own lives to show why they supported additional child care and finding ways to make child care at Purdue affordable.
In response to the commitment from Purdue during the meeting to expand child-care opportunities, the Purdue Chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement with "hope to help hold Provost Akridge and Purdue to that commitment."
"The American Association of University Professors - Purdue (West Lafayette) chapter applauds Purdue’s decision to keep the Patty Jischke Early Care and Education Center (PJC) open “indefinitely” during the pandemic," the statement says. "The chapter now calls for Purdue to honor its commitment made in December 2019 to also increasing affordable, high-quality, accessible childcare on campus.
The release supports Purdue's decision to put off the demolition of PJC, for allowing the children to continue to attend, the teachers to keep their jobs, and for allowing parents to focus on their jobs instead of on hunting for new care centers for their children during a pandemic.
The AAUP statement says Purdue said in its press release that “plans for determining need and capacity for the future of child care for the Purdue community will be revisited once the pandemic is past and there can be more certainty in making those decisions.” The release cites this, and the "repeated lack of mention of the new center committed to by the Board of Trustees in December 2019," as suggesting that the new center may not be built.
"AAUP-Purdue recognizes that having high quality, accessible campus childcare is necessary to recruit and retain excellent and diverse staff, graduate students, and faculty, our constituents," the statement says. "Access to affordable childcare is an equity and social justice issue. We ask that Purdue stop stonewalling, and return to its commitment of increasing affordable, high-quality, accessible child care on campus for students, staff, and faculty."