Dr. Susan Rankin of Rankin & Associates Consulting, which is serving as the outside consultant for JMU climate survey, defines campus 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.

Dr. Rankin’s research maintains that positive personal experiences with campus climate and positive perceptions of campus climate generally equate to successful outcomes. Example successful outcomes include favorable educational experiences and healthy identity development for students, productivity and a sense of value for faculty and staff, and overall well-being for all.

The idea to conduct a campus climate survey originated from interested students, faculty and staff who believed data from such a survey might be useful in planning for the future and improving the climate at JMU.

The survey is open to all current students, staff and faculty.

You will be asked to select your primary position at JMU, but you will not be personally identified. All of your responses will be anonymous. 

JMU’s Climate Study Working Group (CSWG) is charged with directing JMU’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 committee. Although the CSWG will regularly update JMU 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 200 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).

The committee reviewed efforts by other universities to conduct comprehensive climate studies and identified several best practices. 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 college community may feel particularly inhibited to respond honestly if a survey is administered by their own institution for fear of retaliation.

The CSWG is responsible for developing the survey questions, assisted by the consulting company that has administered climate assessments to more than 200 institutions across the nation and developed a repository of questions. The committee was formed to assist in contextualizing the survey for JMU and to capitalize on the many assessment efforts we have already undertaken. The team will review selected survey questions from the consultant’s tested collection and will also include JMU-specific questions, which will be informed by the focus group results.

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. While it is impossible to include every possible choice for every question, the goal is to reduce the number of respondents who must choose "other."

The primary investigator from JMU for the IRB process is Chris Orem. An IRB application will be submitted for the project. Once the project is approved, the survey will be administered.

Although the committee believes the survey process itself is informative, we have sought and received commitment from our senior leaders that the data will be used to plan for an improved climate at JMU.

The target participation in the survey is all students, faculty, and staff at JMU. Every response matters and is valuable in providing the most beneficial feedback and results.

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 due to 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 will be run on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security.

In addition, neither the consultant nor JMU will report any group data for groups of fewer than five individuals, because those "small cell sizes" may be small enough to compromise confidentiality. Instead, those groups will be combined or other measures will be taken to eliminate any potential for demographic information to be identifiable.

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 JMU will only receive these redacted comments.

Participation in the survey is completely voluntary. Participants do not have to answer every question and can skip questions they consider to be uncomfortable. Paper and pencil surveys are also available; once completed, they 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.

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.

The data from online participants will be submitted to a secure server hosted by the consultant. The survey will be run on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security and 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. 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.

Rankin & Associates will have access to the raw data. All Rankin & Associates analysts have CITI (Human Subjects) training and approval, and they have worked on similar projects for other institutions.

The consultant has conducted more than 200 institutional surveys and maintains an aggregate merged database. The data from the JMU 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 submitted directly to the consultant 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 primary investigator with a data file at the completion of the project.

The survey will be administered to all students, faculty and staff at JMU. Climate exists in micro-climates, so creating opportunities to maximize participation is important, as is 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 students). 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, JMU collects population data on gender and race/ethnicity, but not on disability status or sexual orientation. A sample approach could miss many groups.

This initiative will include these primary phases.

  • Survey Development: Fall 2020/Spring 2021
  • Survey Implementation, seeking input from all students, faculty and staff: Fall 2021.
  • Reporting of Results: Spring 2022
  • Development of actions, facilitated by dialogue groups: Fall 2022

We'd love to hear from you!
Your questions and comments are very important as we move through this process. If you've got questions or want to share anything, contact the working group co-chairs, Aderonke Adesanya, Heather Coltman and Tim Miller. You can reach them at speakupdukes@jmu.edu.


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