After 14 years of service in Kenyon’s Department of Health and Counseling, Associate Director of Case Management and Substance Abuse Services Mike Durham stepped down to begin his retirement on June 30.
Since beginning his career at Kenyon in 2006, Durham has been widely liked among students, and the class of 2016 even selected him to be their Baccalaureate speaker. Prior to assuming his most recent position, Durham had served as the Counseling Department’s associate director, a position currently held by Holly Baker. However, an external review of the department in the spring of 2019 revealed that Durham possessed only the proper license for substance abuse counseling, not general mental health counseling. In response, the department reassessed his role in order to properly align with his credentials at the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year.
The College is starting its search for his replacement in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that has caused an increased demand for mental health services across the country.
Having only posted the job opening early last week, the College is still in the initial stages of its search. Both Cox Health and Counseling Center Director Chris Smith and Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 recognized that, given the heightened need for mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, this position needs to be filled as soon as possible.
“This is a department of the College that we understand, during a pandemic, has additional needs. It’s really important that we ensure that those needs are met because it’s serving students directly, both in terms of physical and emotional health,” Bonham said. “We want to make sure that Chris [Smith] has the resources that he needs in order to have certainly beyond the minimum necessary to support students.”
At the same time, Smith feels that there is value in providing as much time as needed to find the proper candidate for the job in order to avoid “just filling positions.”
“Hiring the right staff is the most important decision that any supervisor will do, period point blank,” Smith said. “You want to make sure you’re getting the right people … so it’s not something that we take lightly.”
In looking for a third counselor to replace Durham, Smith said he is not limiting the search to candidates who specialize in issues related to substance abuse. Smith’s ideal candidate is someone who has, along with substance abuse expertise, a variety of tools at their disposal.
“Instead of having one singular person who is the only resource for substance abuse, [I’d like to ensure] everybody is trained as a mental health professional [on substance abuse],” Smith explained. “That way, anybody can help — because if we’re only depending on one person … if they’re on vacation, we leave the students at a gap.”
The College is also searching for individuals whose skill sets are unique and differ from one another. To ensure this, Smith has sent the job posting to eight different organizations.
“This will hopefully give us a diverse array of candidates so that we can think about diversity in its totality, whether that be identity or skill set,” he said.
Smith remains optimistic the search will soon gain momentum; as of Monday, July 27, five candidates had submitted their applications, and three more were in the process of completing them. Smith has already completed an initial candidate review, and will continue to turn to Human Resources for some guidance on candidate selection.
Once Smith finishes curating a group of students to join the search committee — which thus far includes Smith, Associate Director of Counseling Holly Baker and Safety and Wellness Committee Chairperson Ryan Nader ’21 — the group will begin a more detailed review of candidates.