Cleveland State’s outsourcing of mental health resources

By: Anonymous

*Anonymity is being used out of respect as some of this material is current and sensitive to those involved. Contact your Student Government Association with additional information regarding student services.

Whether you knew CSU was operating a Counseling Center, visited their staff during the current year, or agreed with their confidentiality or reporting policies; just know that the university has recently supported a decision that affects you, me, and the people who offer us critical support on our campus. And the best part is, you may not be aware that all these changes are about to take place. 

The university’s outsourcing process is like how bidding on eBay works. The hopeful seller throws a rare electric guitar on the listing page and outlines details associated with the product. The potential buyers scroll through the site and see if the prize is worth the price while comparing the perks of other options out there. The “seller” of clinical counseling and general wellness programs is the university administration. The “potential buyer” of our services is some competitive entity such as the Cleveland Clinic or University Hospitals. 

To provide some background to this situation at CSU, an anonymous representative from the Counseling Center informed me that their most recent 2019-2020 Counseling Center Annual Report revealed that the university administration recently rejected their request to replace a full-time Diversity Specialist and a part-time Psychologist. This same 2019-2020 Annual Report showed that the number of students visiting the Counseling Center has increased about 10% per year over the past five years, and the staff could not provide the financial support to increase their staffing capacity. A typical business decision would allocate funds to where future growth is expected, not the other way around. 

Even if you do not visit the Counseling Center, it is likely that someone that you interact with or see in passing does. “The Cauldron” obtained an annotated copy of the  2019-2020 Annual Report and according to its contents, 36% of those visiting the Counseling Center last year identified as ethnic minorities, with 30% identifying as LGBTQ+. For perspective, one of the prominent representatives at the university’s Counseling Center is an LGBTQ+ community member with over 20 years of experience with promoting services for low-income individuals. 33% of all Counseling Center clients are first-generation students, according to their Annual Report’s figures. These are things that will disappear with an outsourced service in place. 

When an unnamed university official was asked during the past two weeks about their stance on the revealed outsourcing pitch, they claimed that the university wants to serve more students than is currently possible. The university has constructed a list of “non-negotiables” to include in the proposal, and has undertaken so many other responsibilities because of COVID-19. What this statement lacks is an acknowledgment, let alone a simple answer, to the question of why the current path was decided on and approved without all relevant parties being duly informed; during the middle of a pandemic. It also does nothing to say why spending funds on outsourcing, outweigh the increasing capacity of recognized Counseling Center staff. It does very little to ask, and not tell, what the students prefer in the outcome of their decision. 

The university’s leadership team made a “business decision” that means CSU spending less of its own money and earning a profit from an outsourcing deal. What the decision represents is a clear shift in financial priorities and a willingness to define student health services in the same lens as those of student dining. There is a deeper issue riding the waves of this Counseling Center story: the university does not communicate effectively to its students.

This statement is supported by the unnamed university official (who actively promotes the university’s move to outsource student health & wellness services) as they said, “The panic, frustration, and just plain confusion we are receiving from students makes one thing abundantly clear: the administration has not been using the right means or mediums to communicate with all students. This is something we hope to work on with the future SGA Executive Board.” 

As convoluted as it may seem, the circle all comes back to students communicating with their representatives and sending their needs and interests through the channels. Essentially, the student representatives need students help to improve the university’s decision-making practices in the future. 

Fortunately, the incoming SGA team shows a passion for improving university communications, as their President-Elect Marty Barnard said, “Improving communications is one of our top priorities this year, as COVID has affected every student, faculty member, and administrative decision for over twelve months. We will take the administration directly to students’ concerns and venture to the media that students are already using, besides relying on email and Facebook.” 

It is no longer a secret that the university could improve communications with its students. All corners of the institution are pointing to this reality. One serious question remains for us returning in the fall: what will you do to make your voice heard by university administration this year?