Counseling Center under-staffed, overbooked

Jessie Hellmann

Under-staffed and without a director, USI’s counseling center feels the pangs of an under-funded service in the midst of a rapidly growing university.

Former director James Browning was fired in April 2009 when police found marijuana in his university office. Only three counselors oversee the counseling center now: Leslie M. Smith, Sara Phillips and Stephanie Cunningham.

After a 17-month search for a replacement director the university has hired Dr. Tom Longwell, who will assume his position Feb 28. Longwell has previous counseling experience working as a staff psychologist at Eastern Kentucky University.

Assistant Counseling Director Leslie Smith said that the counseling center is looking forward to the diversity Longwell will add to the counseling team.

Even with the instatement of a new director, the counseling center is still an understaffed service with only four counselors overseeing a 10,702-student body. Ronald Rochon, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said because of lack of money coming to the university, USI is financially unable to hire more staff for the counseling center.

“USI is still drastically underfunded as a state institution,” said Rochon. “It is not a goal or objective to be short staffed in any category across this campus, but without question, we are. We have many needs.”

According to the “Accreditation for University and College Counseling Centers,” minimum staffing ratios require that there be one professional staff member for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. Currently, the counselor to student ratio at USI is one counselor for every 2,675 students, more than double the required number.

Even though USI’s counseling department falls well below accreditation standards, Rochon said there is nothing the university can do about this problem right now. He said the key priority is hiring more full-time professors and instructors at the university, and then hiring more counselors when resources become available.

Because of the lack of counselors at USI, a five-appointment limit has been put in place. Smith said that the counseling department did not have to instate appointment limitations in the past, however, having a small staff of four for over 10,000 students forced the department to resort to these measures.

After a patient exceeds the maximum amount of visits, they will be referred to a psychologist in the community. Smith said that she hopes more staff can be hired so the center can revert back to having no appointment limits. Smith said that having more counselors would be ideal for the counseling center because students seeking help would not have to wait for an available counselor.

“Right now, it’s not a problem. We can usually see students right away if they come in, and it’s an emergency situation,” Rochon said. “I’m concerned. We as a faculty, a staff and as an administrative body, we are concerned. We want to make sure that we are providing these services for our students.”

The counseling center is open 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. After hours, students are urged to contact security in case of an emergency situation. Rochon said the next big step is to hire additional staff for the counseling center when USI is financially able to do so.