Student parents voice concerns about Student Parent Center’s future

Task force will determine action concerning the center’s pending demolition.

When MU announced it would demolish the Student Parent Center along with the University Village student apartment complex, student parents were indignant about the uncertainty of the day care’s future.

A news release, handed out during a meeting between 16 student parents and members of the departments of Residential Life and Student and Auxiliary Services on March 12, stated that the university was looking into the feasibility of continuing to offer on-campus child care.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said in the release that the university would also provide resources to parents searching for child care.

Naomi Clark, student parent and English doctoral candidate, said the university personnel referred parents to the website ChildCareAware.org for help finding day care alternatives.

But these were not satisfying solutions, she said.

“The assistance was very minimal, and the reality is child care is very difficult to find,” Clark said. “And especially on short notice; most kids are on waiting lists for months and months before they get into a facility.”

University Task Force Assembled

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said the university is consulting a task force of organizations to determine the best course of action to help students and parents affected by the pending demolition.

The task force, led by Deputy Chancellor Mike Middleton, will consult the Graduate Professional Council, Missouri Students Association, Staff Advisory Council, the Family Friendly Campus Committee and other organizations on campus to gather feedback about what direction the university move toward, Loftin said.

GPC President Jake Wright said the GPC will assess what its constituents think of the issue.

“There’s a question about what happens in the long term,” Wright said. “Is the fact that the university provides child care useful, or do graduate and professional students think that it would be better in some sense to find those services in the private market? I want to get a sense of what graduate and professional students really think.”

To assess opinions of the issue, the GPC will hold an open forum for student parents and other students to voice their concerns, Wright said.

“We’re discussing having a town hall open forum where students could come and express their views,” he said. “That way we could compile (information of) what graduate students need when we discuss the future.”

Wright said he anticipates holding the forum shortly after spring break. For now, he is encouraging people to voice their concerns to GPC via email.

“We’ve been encouraging people to contact us, and I have been in contact via email with parents who are concerned about the center closing,” he said. “We are certainly taking that communication into account.”

Clark said she hopes Loftin will also seriously consider a report the Family Friendly Campus Committee that was submitted during former Chancellor Brady Deaton’s administration. The evidence-based report assesses things that need to be done to make the campus more family-friendly.

The task force is set to report back to Loftin by April.

“Out of 48,000 people (students, faculty and staff), we have 30 children (at the center),” Loftin said. “It’s not a big number, but they are important. I’m not trying to diminish that to the parent. So I established a group to find the right answer.”

Student Parents’ Solutions

Clark thinks Loftin should set up a meeting with student parents instead of delegating the task to consulting organizations in the task force.

“I understand consulting with MSA, GPC,” Clark said. “But I hope (Loftin) will also consult with the students who are directly affected by the situation because the reality is that, despite how well-intentioned those officers are, they don’t have personal experience with the Student Parent Center, and those experiences should be an important part of these decisions.”

Former graduate student Claire Schmidt, who used the Student Parent Center from 2011 to 2014, said the university should also advocate for staff of the center.

“The teachers who have been at the SPC have been there for years and have given so much of their professional careers to the day care center,” she said. “I hope the university finds a good place for these talented professionals in one of the other child care centers on campus, and I hope the university doesn’t just fire them.”

An ideal solution would be if the university considered shifting the Student Parent Center oversight from the Student and Auxiliary Services department, Clark said.

“The university could move responsibility of the Student Parent Center away from Student and Auxiliary Services to a departmental home that will seek to make it successful and not bleed it dry,” she said.

Chris Engelhardt, a postdoctoral research fellow and student parent, agreed. He said he was upset when university officials did not take notes on parent concerns during the March 12 meeting.

Engelhardt, whose wife, Kimberly Bodner, started a change.org petition urging the university to continue the Student Parent Center’s existence, said he has been unsatisfied with the ambiguity surrounding a long-term solution.

“Our stance is that the university has been reactive but hasn’t been proactive about anything,” he said.

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