Climate study FAQ

Why is a positive climate important?

Dr. Susan 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.

Why was a non-Marquette 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 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 out of concern for confidentiality or less objectivity or even out of fear of retaliation.

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. The consultant will also conduct several focus groups with Marquette students, faculty and staff to assist in contextualizing the survey for Marquette. The Climate Study Working Group is ultimately responsible for determining the survey questions. The group includes representatives from various constituent groups across campus and includes students, faculty and staff. The CSWG will review selected survey questions from the consultant's tested collection and will also include Marquette-specific questions that will be informed by the focus group results.

Why do some demographic questions contain a 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 a campus climate research that has an intended purpose of inclusiveness. Along these lines, survey respondents will see a long list of possible choices for many demographic questions. It is impossible reasonably to include every possible choice to every question, but the goal is to reduce the number of respondents who must choose "other."

What is the Institutional Review Board process for this study?

The primary investigator from Marquette for the IRB process is Alexandra Riley, director of Marquette's Office of Institutional Research and Analysis. An IRB application will be submitted for the project. Once the project is approved, the survey will be administered.

What will be done with data from the results?

The survey process in and of itself is informative. The CSWG has received commitment from President Michael R. Lovell, Interim Provost Margaret Faut Callahan, C.R.N.A., F.N.A.P., F.A.A.N., and senior-level administrators that data will be used to plan for an improved climate at Marquette University. All stakeholders — faculty, staff and students — will be invited to participate in the development of post-survey action initiatives.

What is the response rate goal?

Target participation in the survey is 100 percent. Every response matters and is valuable in providing the most beneficial feedback and results.

How is a respondent's confidentiality protected?

Confidentiality is vital to the success of campus climate research, particularly because sensitive and personal topics are discussed. Though the survey can't guarantee complete anonymity because of the nature of multiple demographic questions, the consultant will take multiple precautionary measures to ensure individual confidentiality and the deidentification 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 of participants 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 about 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 can't be 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 upon request.

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 about the nature of confidentiality, possible threats to confidentiality and procedures developed to ensure deidentification of data.

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 committee will review draft reports and provide feedback to the consultant before campus release.

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

Marquette has worked with the consultant to develop a research data security description and protocol, which includes specific information about 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 an 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, the project coordinator, will have access to the raw data, as will 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 from 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 120 institutional surveys and maintains an aggregate merged database. The data from the Marquette 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 Marquette with a data file at the completion of the project.

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

The survey will be administered to all faculty, staff and students at Marquette. Climate exists in microclimates (i.e., each department or unit can vary significantly from others), 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 because we may "miss" particular populations where numbers are very small (e.g., Native American faculty). Because one goal of the project is inclusiveness and allowing "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, Marquette collects population data on gender and race/ethnicity but not on disability status or sexual orientation. So a sample approach could miss many groups.

Professor and student

More Information

For question or special needs please contact William Welburn, Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion or 414.288.8028.

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