Student mental health emerges as key issue as UIC faculty strike dates loom

The mental health crisis affecting college students across the country has been the focus of stalled contract negotiations with faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Members of the teachers’ union, who are threatening to go on strike Tuesday, are calling for pay increases to make up for the increased workload resulting from the increased mental health needs of students. They are also asking universities to provide free psychological and neuropsychological testing for struggling students.

“Right now, the UIC faculty are going for it…and I have no training in how to support these students. Senior Lecturer Charitan Williams, communications officer for her union, said. “I have a degree in English.”

Strikes and threats of strikes are not uncommon at Illinois public universities. All three of his campuses at the University of Illinois have had strikes in the last decade. What is unusual is its focus on student mental health and its impact on faculty performance.

Before the pandemic hit, college students’ mental health was already hitting breaking point. Then, as courses moved online, students faced increasing isolation and anxiety.according to A national survey called the Healthy Mind StudyA majority of college students had met the criteria for at least one mental health issue after the outbreak of the pandemic, according to a study.

“Student mental health is the worst I’ve ever seen [sic] I started my career at UIC as a graduate student in 2001,” Williams said.

A majority of the 900 members of the UIC United Faculty voted to strike if no agreement was reached with the university administration. The final negotiating session is set for Thursday afternoon.

As of Tuesday, there was a discrepancy of about $10,000 between the union-requested minimum wage and the amount offered by management, according to the teachers’ union.

In addition to increased remuneration, members of the teachers’ union experience severe academic distress as UIC has never been tested or diagnosed for conditions such as ADHD, autism, and depression. We would like to offer free tests to students. This service is currently offered at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Faculty members involved in the negotiations said university leaders told them that contract negotiations were not the proper place to discuss student issues. Admitting to refusing to negotiate on irrelevant matters.

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. It is causing serious financial difficulties for the entire university. “

Teachers’ union negotiators argue that student mental health affects working conditions. UIC political scientist Kate Floros spends a significant amount of time caring for students, from those who need to focus on work to those who have to reschedule all their exams due to mental health issues. He says he spends

“Students have very different needs, so 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.

“There are regular student breakdowns, not just in my office,” she said. “Previously, students would struggle. They would keep that stiff upper lip until we were private. There is also.”

She said it stops learning.

“All these materials should be delivered in a different way, at a different time and in a different order,” she said. “Then I have to support that student, and I have to support the students around them because other students probably feel very much the same way.” am.”

According to Tim Cain, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Georgia, the UIC faculty union’s push for student mental health support is due to growing social movement union activity on campuses in the United States and Canada. It is said that it reflects

“There is broader pressure to improve not only the situation of union members, but the situation of larger organizations and societies,” he said.

Kane said that if student conditions affect faculty working conditions, it can be argued that they should be part of the contract negotiations.

“Spending time as a counselor to untrained students, trying to help … deal with missed classes and other emotional stresses that affect my work and make it more difficult. , it’s working conditions,” Kane said. He said. “When [the] The administration may say, ‘No, it’s here, it’s excluded from negotiations.’ “

UIC faculty and staff members have been in talks with university administrators since last spring. Their 2019 contract expired in August. It was signed the day before the faculty member left.

Lisa Philip covers higher education in WBEZ in partnership with: open campus. Student mental health emerges as key issue as UIC faculty strike dates loom

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