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Campus Climate Survey: Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is university climate?

Dr. Susan Rankin of Rankin & Associates Consulting, which is serving as the outside consultant for the University of Missouri System'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.

2. 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 successful outcomes. Examples of successful outcomes include positive educational experiences and healthy identity development for students, productivity and sense of value for faculty and staff, and overall well-being for all.

3. What is the timeline?

Survey development took place in spring and summer 2016 and the survey was administered to UM System staff in November 2016. The results of the UM System community survey will be communicated at a town hall on September 12, 2017 from 12:30 – 2:00 p.m. Going forward, the local climate survey team will lead the development of strategic actions (spring 2018) and initial implementation of actions (2018).

4. Why was a non-UM 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 feel particularly inhibited to respond honestly to a survey administered by their own institution for fear of retaliation.

5. What is the Institutional Review Board process for this study?

The primary investigator for the Institutional Review Board process is Dr. Susan Rankin from Rankin & Associates. The University of Missouri–Columbia’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) reviewed the project proposal, including the survey instrument. The IRB approved the project on September 9, 2016.

6. What will be included in the final summary reports?

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. The UM System climate survey team will review draft reports and provide feedback to the consultant prior to public release.

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

UM 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 survey 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. The paper-and-pencil surveys are returned to the consultant directly and kept in a locked file drawer in a locked office. The consultant destroys the paper-and-pencil 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.

The consultant will provide the UM System with a data file at the completion of the project.

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

The survey will be administered to all faculty and staff at the UM System, and similar surveys are underway on each of the UM campuses. 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, the university collects population data on gender and race/ethnicity but not on disability status or sexual orientation, so a sample approach could miss many groups.

9. How do I provide feedback?

Your questions and comments are very important as we move through this process. Please share by contacting Emily Love at LoveEE@umsystem.edu.

Reviewed September 08, 2017.