Frequently asked questions:

What is campus climate?

Dr. Susan Rankin, Rankin & Associates Consulting, who is serving as the outside consultant for the law school’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.

Why is a positive climate important?

Dr. 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 is Texas A&M Law conducting a climate survey?

Texas A&M University requires all units to conduct periodic climate assessments. 2016 marks the first such assessment conducted by the Law School since its acquisition by the University in 2013.

Who will conduct the survey?

The Texas A&M School of Law Diversity Council, which includes a cross section of students, faculty, and staff, was charged with conducting the climate survey. The Council determined that the law school—and even the larger University community—lacked the expertise necessary to conduct a thorough climate assessment. After a review of potential vendors, the committee selected Rankin & Associates Consulting to conduct the survey. Rankin & Associates reports directly to the Council. 

Although the Council will regularly update the Law School community about its progress, the Council—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 100 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 institutional climate to better understand the challenges facing their respective communities." (Rankin & Reason, 2008).

Why was a non-Texas A&M researcher selected for the project?

In reviewing efforts by other Texas A&M units and other universities to conduct comprehensive climate studies, the Diversity Council identified several best practices. One was to enlist 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. Members of a university community may feel particularly reluctant to respond honestly to a survey administered by their own institution for fear of retaliation.

How were the questions developed?

The consultant has administered climate assessments to more than 100 institutions across the nation and has developed a repository of tested questions. The Diversity Council was responsible for developing the survey questions. Over the course of several months, the Council reviewed select survey questions from the consultant's tested collection and generated law-school specific questions with the consultant's guidance.

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, the survey offers respondents a long list of possible choices for many demographic questions. Although it is impossible to include every potential choice to every question, the goal is to reduce the number of respondents who must choose "other."

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

The primary investigator (PI) for this project is Professor John F. Murphy. Professor Murphy and Dr. Sue Rankin submitted the survey to the Texas A&M IRB for approval.

What will be done with data from the results?

The Council believes the survey process itself will be informative. Further, Dean Andrew Morriss has made a commitment to use the resulting data to plan for an improved climate at the law school. All stakeholders—faculty, staff and students—will be invited to participate in post-survey planning.

What is the target response rate?

Target participation in the survey is 100%. Every response matters and is valuable in providing the most beneficial feedback and results. Full participation is especially crucial in a population as small as the law school’s.

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 is taking multiple precautionary measures to enhance individual confidentiality and the de-identification of data. First, no data already protected through regulation or policy (e.g., Social Security number, UIN, or 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.

Second, 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). Although no guarantees can be made regarding the interception of data sent via the Internet by any third parties, to avoid interception of data, the survey is run on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security.

Third, 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.

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.

What will be included in the final summary reports?

The consultant will provide a final report that will include: an executive summary; a 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. The Diversity Council will review draft reports and provide feedback to the consultant prior to public release.

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

The law school 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 (which 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 law-school 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 fully 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 consultant will notify the committee co-chairs of any breach or suspected breach of data security of the consultant's server.

The consultant will provide the law school 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 the law school. 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., Native American faculty). An important goal of the project is inclusiveness and allowing inaudible "voices" to be heard. In addition, randomized stratified sampling is not used because we do not have the population data on which to base the sampling. For example, the law school collects population data on gender and race/ethnicity, but not on religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. So a sample approach could miss many groups.

What is the timeline?

This initiative includes five primary phases: survey development (spring-summer 2016); survey implementation that will seek input from all faculty, staff, and students (fall 2016); reporting of results (spring 2017); development of strategic actions (spring 2017); and initial implementation of actions (2017–16).