Dr. Susan Rankin of Rankin & Associates Consulting, which is serving as the outside consultant for Hofstra University University’s 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.
Hofstra University Climate Project
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is campus climate?
- Why is a positive climate important?
Hofstra University is a private institution whose primary mission is to provide a quality education to its students in an environment that encourages, nurtures, and supports learning through the free and open exchange of ideas, for the betterment of humankind. A positive climate is important to Hofstra’s primary mission.
- Why is Hofstra University conducting a climate survey?
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 Hofstra University.
- 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 Hofstra 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 committee. Although the CSWG will regularly update Hofstra University 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 170 institutions across the country. She developed and utilizes 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).
- How were the questions developed?
The consultant has administered climate assessments to more than 170 institutions across the nation and developed a repository of tested questions. To assist in contextualizing the survey for Hofstra University, and to capitalize on the many assessment efforts already undertaken, the CSWG was formed and consists of employee and student representatives from various constituent groups at Hofstra 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 Hofstra University -specific questions which will be informed by the focus group results.
- Why do some demographic questions contain a very large number of response options?
Survey respondents will see a long list of possible choices for many demographic questions. The goal is to reduce the number of respondents who must choose “other.”
- What will be done with data from the results?
Although the committee believes the survey process itself is informative, data will be used to plan for an improved climate at Hofstra University. Employees and students will be invited to participate in the development of post-survey recommendations.
- What is the response rate goal?
Target participation in the survey is all students and employees at Hofstra University. 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 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) 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 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 the 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 (employee type/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.
Information in the introductory section of the survey will describe the manner in which confidentiality will be protected, 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, including for future secondary use?
Hofstra 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 consultant has informed the University that 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 consultant has further informed the University that the web server runs with the SE-Linux security extensions (that were developed by the NSA); that the server is also in RAID to highly reduce the chance of any data loss due to hardware failure; that he server performs a nightly security audit from data acquired via the system logs and notifies the administrators; and that the number of system administrators will be limited and each will have had required background checks.
The consultant has conducted more than 170 institutional surveys and maintains an aggregate merged database. The data from the Hofstra University 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 University of any breach or suspected breach of data security of the consultant’s server.
- Why is this a population survey and not a sample survey?
The survey will be offered to all employees and students at Hofstra 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. 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, Hofstra 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.
- What is the timeline?
This initiative will include five primary phases. The first phase will be focus groups (fall 2016),followed by survey development (spring/fall 2016), survey implementation that will seek input from all faculty, staff and students (spring 2017), reporting of results (fall 2017), and development of recommendations (2017-18). Dates are subject to change.
- How can I get involved?
To get involved and help Hofstra make the most of this opportunity reach out to StudentAffairs[at]Hofstra.edu with your request to get involved!