The director of the University Counseling Center abruptly resigned Thursday after facing charges from former employees of incompetent leadership and inappropriate professional behavior.
The resignation was announced in a canned statement from Dean of Students Peter Konwerski that did not address the controversies brought to light by a Nov. 17 Hatchet article. The seven counselors sourced then said a lack of leadership in UCC led to frequent staff turnover, limiting the effectiveness of the center.
University administrators declined to speak specifically about director John Dages’ departure Dec. 30, citing a policy not to discuss personnel.
“People leave for many reasons,” Konwerski said Friday when asked about Dages’ sudden departure, months into a Human Resources intervention to retrain the counseling center’s leadership. Dages did not return a request for comment.
In the past two years, the center has seen an 11-employee exodus, including psychologists and case managers, many of whom said strife with the management fueled their exits from the center. Counselors who have resigned from the UCC in the last year identified Dages as dysfunctional, irate and unprofessional. His threats to fire staff, disorganized administrative behavior, comments about personal lives and rare presence at the center created a toxic work environment. Employees also said Dages is out of touch with students because he does not see clients regularly.
Dages will spend the next month transitioning Mark Levine, senior associate dean of students, into the role of interim director. Levine – who has no clinical background – will have a solely administrative role, the specific responsibilities of which have yet to be determined, Konwerski said.
He said assistant director Barbara Brown, who is in her seventh year at the center, will remain in her current position “to remain as close to the clients as possible.” He declined to comment if the decision to pass over Brown for the directorship was influenced by complaints made by departing counselors about her hands-off leadership and at times harsh treatment of employees.
Concerns resurfaced after a series of exit interviews this fall, prompting human resources to step in with a “performance improvement plan” lasting through the semester. A senior administrator said Brown’s positions as a leader of the center would be reexamined when the plan ends in January. The University declined to comment on how the plan specifically addresses claims that the leadership created a work environment that harmed student health.
A clinician – who left this spring after two years at the center and spoke on the condition of anonymity this week because she still works in the counseling field – expressed relief that Brown was not promoted to director. The former employee described Brown as “chronically unprofessional” and “disinterested and disconnected” in the center’s daily routines.
Konwerski said Levine’s existing relationships in the center will ease his transition to a more direct leadership role. The dean of students said Levine has been acting as the “day-to-day supervisor” since September and has met individually with the center’s four staff psychologists and seven part-time clinical assistants to maintain open lines of communication after four employees left in as many months.
Former members of the counseling center said they believe mismanagement will not completely subside until both leaders have left.
“Barbara needs to leave for there to be a real change,” an employee, who left last spring, said.
Another former employee agreed Dages’ resignation “is a step in the right direction,” but expressed concern about Levine’s leadership because a director not versed in a clinical background could be “really problematic.”
“It’s very easy to just cross the line into ‘it’s a business,’ where you come in, pay, get your services,” the former employee said.
Levine will not have a clinical role. Konwerski said the “counselor on call” program that Dages created would not be affected by the loss of one clinician.
Several former counselors said they met individually with Levine in past years as well and grew frustrated by what they described as a lack of urgency in addressing the complaints.