Six months after the former director of Counseling and Psychological Services Bill Alexander announced his plans to retire, Penn has yet to find a permanent replacement for his position. Alexander officially completed his nine-year tenure as director on Aug. 31, and since then, CAPS has been operating without the leadership of a director.
Meeta Kumar, the former director of Outreach and Prevention Services, officially took up the post of Deputy Executive Director on Sept. 1 upon Alexander's leave. Kumar said CAPS is still actively searching for a permanent executive director.
While students have only been back on campus for a month now, several leaders of wellness clubs say they have found the delayed transition challenging to work with.
Penn Benjamins Co-Director and College senior Gabrielle Rothschild said Alexander was a key supporter of the group since it was founded in 2014 as the University's only in-person peer-to-peer counseling service. Alexander effectively functioned as the group’s faculty sponsor, a role that Kumar has currently taken over. Kumar said that she has met with the leaders of Penn Benjamins once this year.
Penn Benjamins Co-Director and College senior Max Schechter added that while he is confident in the ability of CAPS to continue supporting the group, he is worried that the delayed transition might make it difficult for him to form a productive relationship with the new director in the limited time he has before graduation. This, in turn, could hinder the growth of the club, Schechter said.
“Any progress we make with [Kumar] we'll have to sort of make again with the new director,” Schechter said.
Vice Provost for University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum said the position for a new Director has been posted and VPUL does not expect to have an update until the end of October.
Three weeks into her time as Deputy Executive Director, Kumar has instituted a number of changes to address students' critiques of CAPS.
On Aug. 15, Kumar launched a pilot program that allows students to speak directly with a CAPS clinician by phone during all hours of the day. Previously, Kumar said students were only able to speak to a clinician over the phone during nighttime and weekends.
Since last semester, CAPS has also officially hired the five new staff members intended to expand hours and reduce wait times. They consist of three full-time clinicians, a coordinator of clinical operations, and an administrative assistant. The addition of these staff members were first announced by Penn President Amy Gutmann in a school-wide email following last October's inaugural Campus Conversation.
“We are listening, we are responding to some of your concerns, and really rolling out new systems,” Kumar said.