Long Island University Brooklyn’s decision to lock out its 400 unionized professors ahead of the fall 2016 semester is impacting students beyond the scope of their lectures, seminars and lab sections. Teachers and graduate students in the Psychology department said Tuesday that the administration has failed to maintain the campus Psychological Services Center where, under normal circumstances, students drop in for counseling sessions to discuss loneliness, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
The professors who supervise the center, who are also licensed psychologists, are currently barred from campus. Second-year psychology PhD students are typically in charge of counseling, but can only run sessions with licensed oversight. According to center director Dr. Seymour Pardo, only the office secretary is currently reporting to work. He's urged her to refer students to a mental health counseling hotline and the Dean of Students.
Since the lockout commenced last week, "the administration has had no direct contact with me," Pardo said.
LIU's Psychological Services Center is unique among mental health centers at American universities, in that its services are primarily pro bono—provided by professors and students rather than outside professionals. "It's a win-win," said Kevin Meehan, an associate psychology professor. "The university gets high-quality psych services at no cost, and our students get training."
Now, in addition to missing out on said training, some of the PhD students said their psychology classes aren't adequately staffed. "It's concerning because we're on a really tight cycle of externships for our licensing," said one of the students, who spoke anonymously for fear of retribution from the administration. "Every day that we're not in the clinic is costing us those hours, which is impacting our eligibility."
The students sent a letter [PDF] to the administration and board of trustees outlining their concerns on Monday, and have yet to get a response.
Meehan added that he believes psychological services are particularly important at a school like LIU Brooklyn, where many students come from low-income and minority backgrounds.
"The kinds of problems that students come in with really go beyond the average purview of a mental health counseling center," he said. "We absolutely get test anxiety and things like that, but so many of the students are very, very financially distressed. A lot of them are the first person in their family to go to college, and many of them are first generation immigrants. They don't come from families that are used to the academic world."
In Pardo's experience, September is a "crucial" time for the center. "We usually do a great deal of outreach, where psychologists come to classes and do a short presentation, especially for freshman," he said. Pardo added that he believes foot traffic at the center has been relatively light since classes started, in large part because his staff hasn't been able to publicize its services.
This school year has already been particularly confusing and stressful due to the lock-out, students say. Over Labor Day weekend, union faculty members were informed that they will not be welcome on campus until an agreement is reached on their five-year contract, which expired on August 31st. Interim teachers have been recruited from other schools. And while LIU described these professors as "adjuncts with advanced degrees," students said many classes have involved minimal learning. Some haven't been staffed at all.
"Myself and the rest of the people in charge of protesting and gathering students could definitely use somebody to talk to and get some of our anxiety released," said Caroline Woods, a speech pathology graduate student. "I'm sure it would be very valuable to a lot of people, especially freshmen, who are just starting. They are so confused, they have no idea what's going on."
Presented with these allegations, LIU spokeswoman Jennifer Solomon said only that "all University services remain available to students." She did not confirm, nor deny, the Psychology professors' claim that their counseling center is being staffed by one secretary.
"I tell Nakisha [Thomas, the Psychological Services Center secretary] to tell patients that they will be contacted the minute our service resumes," Pardo explained (Thomas could not immediately be reached for comment). As for returning students seeking to resume counseling sessions post-summer break, Pardo is allowing his counselors to respond to their inquiries with brief phone calls, explaining why services are disrupted.
"We're basically keeping our fingers crossed that someone doesn't call and say they are doing very badly," he said.
Additional reporting by Erica Siudzinski.