Frequently Asked Questions

What is university climate?
Why is a positive climate important?
Why is Seattle University conducting a climate survey?
Who will be conducting the survey?
Why was a non-Seattle University researcher selected for the project?
How were the questions developed?
Why do some demographic questions contain a very large number of response options?
What is the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process for this study?
What will be done with data from the results?
What is the response rate goal?
How is a respondent’s confidentiality protected?
What will be included in the final summary reports?
What protections are in place for storage of sensitive data, including for future secondary use?
Why is this a population survey and not a sample survey?
What is the timeline?
Who can I contact for additional information about the study?

1. What is university climate?

Dr. Susan Rankin of Rankin & Associates Consulting, which is serving as the outside consultant for Seattle University’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.

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2. Why is a positive climate important?

Positive personal experiences with university climate and positive  perceptions of university climate generally equate to successful outcomes (Guiffrida, Gouveia, Wall, & Seward, 2008; Harper & Hurtado, 2007; Harper & Quaye, 2004; Hurtado & Ponjuan, 2005; Rankin & Reason, 2005; Settles et al., 2006; Yosso et al., 2009). Example 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.

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3. Why is Seattle University conducting a climate survey?

The Diversity Task Force, appointed in September 2013, was charged with assessing the current state of equity and inclusion on campus and recommending further steps for the university to move forward with enhancing our core value of diversity.  The climate study will provide insight into the learning, working, and living environment on campus for students, faculty, and staff. In partnership with the university’s leadership, the task force will use what we learn from the study to make tangible recommendations to improve the campus climate.

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4. Who will be conducting the survey?

The Climate Study Working Group (CSWG), which includes a cross section of students, faculty and staff, is  charged with conducting Seattle University’s climate survey. After a review of potential vendors, the committee selected  Rankin & Associates Consulting to conduct the survey. Rankin & Associates reports directly to the CSWG and the CSWG will regularly update the Seattle community about its  progress.  The committee, in consultation with Rankin & Associates, is solely responsible for the development, implementation and interpretation of the survey and its results. 

Dr. Susan Rankin (Rankin & Associates  Consulting) is the consultant working directly with us on this project. Dr. Rankin is an emeritus faculty member of Education Policy Studies and College Student Affairs at The Pennsylvania State University and a senior  research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education. She has extensive experience in institutional climate assessment and institutional climate transformation based on data-driven action and strategic  planning. Dr. Rankin has conducted multi-location institutional climate studies at more than 120 institutions  across the country. She developed and uses the Transformational Tapestry model as a research design for campus climate studies. The model is a “comprehensive, five-phase strategic model of assessment, planning  and intervention. The model is designed to assist campus communities in conducting inclusive assessments of  their institutional climate to better understand the challenges facing their respective communities.” (Rankin & Reason, 2008).

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5. Why was a non-Seattle University 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 who can also ensure the confidentiality of the participants . Members of a university community may feel  particularly inhibited to respond honestly to a survey administered by their own institution for fear of retaliation.

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6. How were the questions developed?

The consultant has administered climate assessments to more than 100 institutions across the nation and  developed a repository of tested questions. To assist in contextualizing the survey for Seattle University, and to capitalize  on the many assessment efforts already undertaken, the CSWG was formed and  consists of faculty, staff and student representatives from various constituent groups at Seattle University. The committee  is responsible for developing the survey questions. The team will review selected survey questions from the  consultant’s tested collection, and will also include Seattle University-specific questions, which will also be informed by the results of information gathering conducted by the Seattle University Diversity Task Force, appointed in September 2013.

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7. Why do some demographic questions contain a very large number of response options?

It is important in campus climate research for survey participants to “see” themselves in response choices to  prevent “othering” an individual or an individual’s characteristics. Some researchers maintain that assigning  someone to the status of “other” is a form of marginalization and should be minimized, particularly in campus climate research which has an intended purpose of inclusiveness. Along these lines, survey respondents will see  a long list of possible choices for many demographic questions. However, it is reasonably impossible to include  every possible choice to every question, but the goal is to reduce the number of respondents who must choose “other.”

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8. What is the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process for this study?

The primary investigator from Seattle University for the IRB process is Robert Duniway, Assistant Vice President for University Planning and Director of Institutional Research at Seattle University. An IRB application  will be submitted for the project. Once the project is approved, the survey will be administered.

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9. What will be done with data from the results?

Although the committee believes the survey process itself is informative, we have sought and received  commitment from the senior leadership that the data will be used to plan for an improved climate at Seattle University. All stakeholders—faculty, staff and students—will be invited to participate in the development of post-survey action initiatives.

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10. What is the response rate goal?

Target participation in the survey is 100%. The response rate we strive for is at least 30% to allow for the generalizability of the results. That said, every response matters and is valuable in providing the most  beneficial feedback and results.

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11. How is a respondent’s confidentiality protected?

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) will be 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 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 “small 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) —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.

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12. 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%. The committee will review draft reports and  provide feedback to the consultant prior to public release.

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

Seattle University 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 Dr. 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 NSA). 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 100 institutional surveys and maintains an aggregate merged  database. The data from the Seattle University project will be merged with all other existing climate data stored  indefinitely on the consultant’s secure server. No institutional identifiers will be included in the full merged data set  held by the consultant. The raw unit-level data with institutional identifiers will be kept on the server for six months  and then destroyed. The paper and pencil surveys will be returned to the consultant directly and kept in a locked file drawer in a locked office. The consultant will destroy 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 Institutional Research Office at Seattle University with a data file at the completion of the project. The data will be held in accordance with the confidentiality offered in numbers 11 and 13 of this document.

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

The survey will be administered to all faculty, staff and students at Seattle University. Climate exists in micro-climates, 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., international faculty). Because 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 will not used because we do not have population data on most identities. For example, Seattle 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.

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15. What is the timeline?

This initiative will include five primary phases. The first will involve survey development (summer/fall 2014),  survey implementation that will seek input from all faculty, staff and students (spring 2015), reporting of results (fall 2015), development of strategic actions (fall 2015) and initial implementation of actions (2015-16).

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Your questions and comments are very important as we move through this process. Please share by contacting:

Monica L. Nixon, Ed.D.
Assistant Vice President for Student Development Seattle University, 206-296-6066

Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs
Professor, Modern Languages/Women Studies Seattle University, 206-296-6353

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