Campus Climate Q&A

What is university climate?

Dr. Susan Rankin of Rankin & Associates Consulting, who is serving as the outside consultant for MU’s climate survey, defines university climate as “the current attitudes, behaviors, standards and practices of employees and students of an institution.” The climate is often shaped through personal experiences, perceptions and institutional efforts.

Why is a positive climate important?

Dr. Rankin’s research maintains that positive personal experiences with university climate and positive perceptions of university climate generally equate to positive educational experiences and healthy identity development for students, productivity and sense of value for faculty and staff, and overall well-being for all. These factors impact student retention and graduation rates, as well as employee turnover.

Why did MU conduct a climate survey?

Assessing the climate at MU is critical for us to be able to improve our learning and working environment. MU has conducted periodic climate studies since 2001, and plans were in the works in spring 2015 to conduct a new survey. At the same time, the University of Missouri–Kansas City was also planning to conduct a climate survey. In order to leverage resources and gain valuable information from all campuses, the University of Missouri System decided in spring 2016 to expand the survey to all four UM System campuses and system administration offices. The Systemwide Climate Study Team, consisting of representatives from all campuses, began meeting in June to develop plans for survey administration.

Why aren’t MU Health Care employees included?

Hospital employees participated in a survey administered by Gallup in January 2017. The Gallup survey includes climate-related questions.

How is the Campus Climate Survey different from the recent diversity audit?

The recent diversity, equity and inclusion audit focused on critically and honestly assessing policies, procedures and practices across the UM System through focus groups and online surveys of randomly selected individuals. The Campus Climate Survey is focused on living and working on campus beyond policies and procedures and all students, faculty and staff are invited to participate through an online survey. View past climate survey results.

What is the timeline?

Survey development took place in spring and summer 2016 and the survey was administered in October 2016. The results were presented to our campus community via town halls on Sept. 12-13, 2017. Going forward, an expanded local climate survey team will lead the development of strategic actions (spring 2018) and initial implementation of actions (2018).

What will be done with data from the results?

Rankin & Associates analyzed the data and provided an executive summary, as well as the full report, to the entire campus community and UM System constituencies. All stakeholders, including students, faculty and staff, will be represented as the campus determines post-survey action initiatives.

Past climate surveys have resulted in the creation of the chief diversity officer position, Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, and the Equity Office, which was one of the first in the nation to track bias incidents on campus. All of these areas, plus the Office for Civil Rights & Title IX, are now part of the Division of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity (IDE).

Other important developments include the creation of a domestic partner benefit policy and the inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression as part of the university’s non-discrimination policy. Past surveys also identified the critical need for the Black Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies programs to become full-fledged departments. Both programs are now departments within the College of Arts and Science.

Who conducted the survey?

Rankin & Associates Consulting was selected to conduct the survey for the University of Missouri System. The consultant has administered climate assessments to more than 150 institutions across the nation, including the University of California and University of Wisconsin systems.

Survey administration is being supported by the Systemwide Climate Study Team and MU Campus Climate Survey Steering Committee, which consists of faculty, staff and student representatives from various constituent groups at MU.

Why was a non-MU researcher selected for the project?

In reviewing efforts by other universities to conduct comprehensive climate studies, several best practices were identified. One was the need for external expertise in survey administration. The administration of a survey relating to a very sensitive subject like campus climate is likely to yield higher response rates and provide more credible findings if led by an independent, outside agency. Members of a university community may be reluctant to respond honestly to a survey administered by their own institution for fear of retaliation.

How were the questions developed?

The consultant has administered climate assessments to more than 150 institutions across the nation and developed a repository of tested questions. To maintain consistency among the campuses within the UM System, the Systemwide Climate Study Team agreed on a common set of questions provided by Rankin & Associates.

What is the Institutional Review Board process for this study?

The primary investigator from MU for the Institutional Review Board process is Mardy Eimers, vice provost for institutional research and quality improvement. An IRB application was submitted and approved for survey to be administered.

What is included in the final summary report?

The consultant will provide a final report that will include: an executive summary; a report narrative of the findings based on cross-tabulations selected by the consultant; frequencies, percentages, means and standard deviations of quantitative data; and content analysis of the textual data. The reports provide high-level summaries of the findings and will identify themes found in the data. Generalizations for populations are limited to those groups or subgroups with response rates of at least 30 percent.

What’s the history of climate surveys at MU?

While this is a different instrument being used, MU has conducted periodic surveys of the campus climate dating back to 2001.

What security measures were taken to protect respondent confidentiality?

Confidentiality is vital to the success of campus climate research, particularly as sensitive and personal topics are discussed. While the survey cannot guarantee complete confidentiality because of the nature of multiple demographic questions, the consultant will take multiple precautionary measures to enhance individual confidentiality and the de-identification of data. No data already protected through regulation or policy (e.g., Social Security number, campus identification number, medical information) is obtained through the survey. In the event of any publication or presentation resulting from the assessment, no personally identifiable information will be shared.

Confidentiality in participating will be maintained to the highest degree permitted by the technology used (e.g., IP addresses will be stripped when the survey is submitted). No guarantees can be made regarding the interception of data sent via the Internet by any third parties; however, to avoid interception of data, the survey is run on a firewalled web server dedicated to Rankin with forced 256-bit SSL security. In addition, the consultant and university will not report any group data for groups of fewer than five individuals, because those cell sizes may be small enough to compromise confidentiality. Instead, the consultant and university will combine the groups or take other measures to eliminate any potential for demographic information to be identifiable. Additionally, any comments submitted in response to the survey will be separated at the time of submission to the consultant so they are not attributed to any individual demographic characteristics. Identifiable information submitted in qualitative comments will be redacted, and the university will only receive these redacted comments.

Participation in the survey is completely voluntary, and participants do not have to answer any question — except the first positioning question (staff, faculty, student) — and can skip any other questions they consider to be uncomfortable. Paper and pencil surveys are also available and will be sent directly to the consultant.

Information in the introductory section of the survey will describe the manner in which confidentiality will be guaranteed, and additional communication to participants will provide expanded information on the nature of confidentiality, possible threats to confidentiality and procedures developed to ensure de-identification of data.

What protections are in place for storage of sensitive data, including for future secondary use?

MU has worked with the consultant to develop a research data security description and protocol, which includes specific information on data encryption, the handling of personally identifiable information, physical security and a protocol for handling unlikely breaches of data security. The data from online participants will be submitted to a secure server hosted by the consultant. The survey is run on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security and is stored on a SQL database that can only be accessed locally. The server itself may only be accessed using encrypted SSH connections originating from the local network. Rankin & Associates Consulting project coordinator Susan Rankin will have access to the raw data, along with several Rankin & Associates data analysts. All Rankin & Associates analysts have CITI (Human Subjects) training and approval and have worked on similar projects for other institutions. The web server runs with the SE-Linux security extensions that were developed by the National Security Agency. The server is also in RAID to highly reduce the chance of any data loss due to hardware failure. The server performs a nightly security audit from data acquired via the system logs and notifies the administrators. The number of system administrators will be limited, and each will have had required background checks.

The consultant has conducted more than 150 institutional surveys and maintains an aggregate merged database. The data from the MU project will be merged with all other existing climate data stored indefinitely on the consultant’s secure server. No institutional identifiers are included in the full merged data set held by the consultant. The raw unit-level data with institutional identifiers is kept on the server for six months and then destroyed. Paper surveys are returned to the consultant directly and kept in a locked file drawer in a locked office. The consultant destroys the paper responses after they are merged with the online data. The consultant will notify the committee chairs of any breach or suspected breach of data security of the consultant’s server.

Why is this a population survey and not a sample survey?

The survey will be administered to all students, faculty and staff at MU. Climate exists in microclimates, so creating opportunities to maximize participation is important, as well as maximizing opportunities to reach minority populations. Along these lines, the consultant has recommended not using random sampling, as we may miss particular populations where numbers are very small (e.g., Native American faculty). Since one goal of the project is inclusiveness and allowing invisible voices to be heard, this sampling technique is not used. In addition, randomized stratified sampling is not used because we do not have population data on most identities. For example, MU collects population data on gender and race/ethnicity but not on disability status or sexual orientation, so a sample approach could miss many groups.

How do I provide feedback?

Your questions and comments are very important as we move through this process. Please share any feedback that you may have with Tara Warne-Griggs, Senior Diversity Assessment & Research Management Consultant, at warnegriggstr@missouri.edu or 573-882-9617.