In its January meeting, the University of Minnesota Senate Committee on Educational Policy approved a policy change that would prohibit instructors from requiring verification for single, non-medical treatment related absences. Professors, however, would still be able use discretion to decide if a student has missed too much work.
Based on the previous policy, many students who had the flu or a cold would be required to obtain a doctor’s note excusing their absence. Advocates argued the policy change would decrease the burden placed on Boynton administration as well as students.
Earlier this month, the policy was withdrawn, however, after negative feedback. University officials have decided to delay the move until fall.
While not explicitly tailored to those with mental illnesses, the new policy makes accommodations more accessible. Throughout this academic year, and most other years, mental health policy has been a centerpiece of student government and college administration.
Certainly, progress has been made. This year, Boynton Health and Student Counseling Services hired extra counselors after the promise of more funding. According to a report earlier this year, this led to a dramatic decline in wait times for mental health services — for some students, even elimination of a wait period.
Furthermore, the training of mental health professionals is also becoming a priority for graduate programs at the University. For example, the University of Minnesota School of Nursing also expanded its mental health training allocations after receiving a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration for nearly $2.1 million to train students in mental health services across the state in rural, underserved areas.
However, despite policy shifts, more resources ought to be put into training professors to recognize the health concerns many students have.
Some students have voiced concerns over explaining to professors the need for recurrent absences due to mental health issues. Turquoya Rudnitski, a University student, told the Minnesota Daily in a cover story last week, that she was met with seeming judgment and doubt when asking professors for accommodations for her general anxiety and major depressive disorders.
The ‘invisibility’ of her illness made it hard to explain to professors her needs in the classroom. This invalidation for many students leads to further anxiety and worsened academic performance.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that resources need to be distributed across the University of Minnesota campuses. While funding for the Twin Cities campus has certainly increased, coordinate campuses are often overlooked. At University of Minnesota-Duluth, the ratio of students to mental health counselors is 2,754 to one counselor. At Crookston, the ratio is even higher — 3,568 students to one. The Morris campus faces similar concerns, with only about three full-time counselors hired.
It’s important for the campus to realize that the battle to tackle mental health resources is never ending. This issue requires constant feedback and advocacy from students. At the same time, this problem necessitates patience.
Administrators are tasked with tough decisions as well, balancing the constant shortfall of funds to the shortfall in personnel. Sustainable solutions will require every group’s input to make a difference.