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Frequently Asked Questions


Why is Drake University conducting a climate assessment?

In 2012, the University began working toward selecting a Quality Improvement Project as part of accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission. Representative groups of faculty staff, and students considered a number of initiatives, eventually agreeing that creating a more welcoming environment for a diverse range of faculty, staff, and students was an essential task for Drake.

What is university climate?

University climate is comprised of “the current attitudes, behaviors, standards and practices of employees and students of an institution” (Rankin & Associates). Climate is often shaped through personal experiences, perceptions, and institutional efforts. The term encompasses the degree to which individuals feel included or excluded in all aspects of life at the university (interpersonal, academic, and professional interactions).

Why is a positive climate important?

Research maintains that positive perceptions of and personal experiences with university climate generally equate to successful outcomes— positive educational experiences and healthy identity development for students, enhanced productivity and sense of value for faculty and staff, and overall wellbeing for all.

Who is conducting Drake’s climate assessment, and how is it structured?

The Strategic Diversity Action Team, a committee consisting of Drake students, faculty, and staff, is charged with delivering a climate assessment of the University. After a review of potential vendors, the committee selected Rankin & Associates Consulting to conduct a data-gathering survey. While SDAT will regularly update the Drake 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. Susan Rankin is the consultant working directly with and reporting to SDAT on this project. 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.

The climate assessment has two parts. Early in the fall 2014 semester, a representative group of students, faculty, and staff will be invited to participate in focus groups, led by Rankin & Associates. Findings from these focus groups will help inform the development of the second part of the climate assessment, a campus-wide, confidential survey conducted early in the spring 2015 semester.

Why was a non-Drake researcher (Rankin & Associates Consulting) selected for the project?

In reviewing efforts by other universities to conduct comprehensive climate studies, Strategic Diversity Action Team (SDAT) identified several best practices. One was the need for external expertise in survey administration and analysis. The administration of a survey relating to a 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 the Drake University community may feel particularly inhibited to respond honestly to a survey administered and analyzed by their own institution.

What is the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process for this assessment?

A formal application will be submitted to Drake’s IRB by Rankin and Associates in coordination with Kevin Saunders, who will be acting as the primary investigator. Once the project is approved by Drake’s IRB, the survey will be administered as authorized. Specific questions about the IRB process and application should be directed to

How were the survey questions developed?

The consultant has administered climate assessments of more than 100 universities across the nation and developed a repository of tested questions. To assist in contextualizing the survey for Drake, and to capitalize on the many assessment efforts already undertaken, Strategic Diversity Action Team (SDAT) was formed. 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 Drake-specific questions, which will be informed by the focus group results.

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 marginalizing 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. While it is reasonably unfeasible to include every possible choice to every question, the goal of an expansive list of choices is to reduce the number of respondents who must choose “other.”

What is the response rate goal?

Target participation in the survey is 100 percent, which will offer the most complete picture of Drake’s climate. With this picture, we will be able to institute change that makes our campus a more welcoming and inclusive environment for current and future students, faculty, and staff.

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

The survey will be administered to all faculty, staff, and students at Drake. When conducting such assessments it is important to note that climate consists of several microclimates. Maximum participation is important in order to reach underrepresented populations. Our consultant has advised that random sampling risks missing particular populations where numbers are very small (e.g., Native American faculty). Furthermore, randomized stratified sampling is not used because Drake does 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. A sample approach could omit some groups.

How will resulting data be used?

We have received commitment from University leadership that data will be used to plan for an improved climate at Drake University, with multiple benefits:

  • Students, faculty, and staff who feel more comfortable, safe, and accepted on campus
  • More diverse, intercultural experiences that provide students an excellent educational experience and the preparation for an increasingly heterogeneous workplace and multicultural world and for greater understanding of responsible global citizenship.
  • A positive work environment for faculty and staff, one where new ideas and diverse perspectives are respected and encouraged.
  • An elevated reputation, increasing the value of a Drake degree.

All stakeholders—faculty, staff and students—will be invited to participate in the development of post-survey action initiatives.

What will be included in the final summary reports?

Rankin & Associates will provide a final report that includes the following: 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 Strategic Diversity Action Team (SDAT) committee will review draft reports and provide feedback to the consultant prior to public release.

What is the timeline?

This initiative will include six primary phases:

  1. Focus Groups (fall 2014)
  2. Survey Development (summer/fall 2014)
  3. Survey Implementation that will seek input from all faculty, staff, and students (spring 2015)
  4. Reporting of Results (fall 2015)
  5. Development of Strategic Actions (fall 2015)
  6. Initial Implementation of Actions (2015-16)

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. The consultant will take multiple precautionary measures to enhance individual confidentiality and the de-identification of data, although the survey cannot guarantee complete confidentiality because of the nature of multiple demographic questions. 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 will be maintained to the highest degree permitted by the technology used (e.g., IP addresses will be stripped when the survey is submitted). 

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.

Finally, 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 can skip any questions they consider to be uncomfortable— except the first positioning question (staff, faculty, student). 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 and extent to 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 that may have future secondary use?

Drake 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. 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 Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (Human Subjects) training and approval and have worked on similar projects for other institutions. 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 Drake 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.

Further information on the technology used to ensure data security is available upon request. 

The consultant will provide the primary investigator, Kevin Saunders, at Drake with the raw data file at the completion of the project. The primary investigator is bound by the confidentiality statements participants will see in the introduction of the survey.


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