UW Climate Survey

Frequently Asked Questions

To guide actions that improve the experiences and well-being of University of Washington students, faculty and staff, the UW will conduct a climate survey across its three campuses October 8 to November 8, 2019. Survey responses will be confidential.

The survey will be facilitated by the Climate Study Working Group (CSWG), which comprises student, faculty and staff representation from all UW campuses, in conjunction with external consultant Rankin & Associates Consulting. The CSWG is responsible for survey development. Once the survey has been administered and the analysis phase is complete, Rankin & Associates will return to the UW to present the report and results. Survey findings will be used to shape actions that create more inclusive and equitable environments for everyone, as well as our work to prevent and respond to sexual assault and misconduct.

See below for more information about the project. Your questions and comments are very important as we move through this process. If you have a question that isn’t addressed here, or if you have feedback to share, please contact a member of the CSWG or Jeanette James and Jason Johnson, co-chairs of the working group.


Why is the University of Washington conducting a climate survey?

To take collective action that improves the climate on our campuses and in individual units, we must identify areas for improvement. The idea to conduct a university climate survey originated from interested students, faculty and staff who believe the survey data will be useful for future planning and for guiding actions to improve the climate at the University of Washington’s Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses.

The UW’s 2017–2021 Diversity Blueprint recommends a university climate survey to inform efforts that will cultivate an inclusive campus climate. A climate survey has also been identified as a priority for the UW Race & Equity Initiative’s work to confront bias and racism at the individual and institutional level, as well as to transform institutional policies and practices. Finally, the survey will include questions related to sexual assault, harassment and misconduct as part of the UW’s responsibilities under Title IX.

What is a university climate survey?

A climate survey is intended to examine the full range of student, faculty and staff experiences related to living, learning and working on their respective UW campuses — experiences that go to the heart of whether they feel a sense of belonging and inclusion, and whether they are able to thrive and succeed here.

Rankin & Associates Consulting 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?

The University is committed to creating an environment that is welcoming and inclusive, so that students, faculty and staff can achieve their full potential. This is central to our mission as a public institution and a research university dedicated to the free and open exchange of ideas. Only by having a positive, inclusive climate can we truly achieve our individual and institutional goals, from transformative educational experiences for students to a positive working environment for faculty and staff that enables them to be most effective, as well as a University community that fosters well-being and sense of belonging for all.

What will be done with the results?

President Ana Mari Cauce, Chancellor Mark Pagano and Chancellor Wolf Yeigh have all committed to using the results of this survey to plan for — and take — effective actions to address critical issues that are identified over the course of this process, whether during initial development of the survey or the survey itself. For example, the results will inform development of the next Diversity Blueprint and how the University prevents and addresses sexual assault and misconduct under its Title IX responsibilities.

Who will conduct the survey?

The Climate Study Working Group (CSWG) is charged with conducting the University of Washington’s climate survey. Made up of 29 members representing all three campuses, the CSWG is responsible for guiding the survey, including determining the questions that will be asked.

The University selected Rankin & Associates Consulting to facilitate the survey. Rankin & Associates reports directly to the CSWG. The CSWG will update the University community and UW leadership regularly about its progress. To maintain the integrity of the survey, the working group is responsible for the development, implementation and interpretation of the survey and its results, in consultation with Rankin & Associates.

Susan Rankin, Ph.D., is the lead consultant working directly with us on this project. Dr. Rankin has conducted multi-location institutional climate studies at more than 190 institutions across the country. Joining Dr. Rankin on the Rankin & Associates team working with UW are Dan Merson, Ph.D., Emil Cunningham, Ph.D., and Mitsu Narui, Ph.D.

What is the timeline?

This initiative will include five key phases. The first will involve focus groups in spring quarter 2019 to identify specific topics that should be addressed, which will then guide survey development in spring and summer quarters 2019. The survey will be administered October 8 to November 8, 2019, to be followed by the reporting of results in spring quarter 2020. The final phase is implementation of actions to address issues identified by the results.


How is my confidentiality protected?

Because of the sensitive and personal topics discussed, confidentiality is vital to the success of campus climate research. Rankin & Associates will take multiple precautionary measures to protect individual confidentiality and de-identify data. The survey will not ask for data protected by regulations and policies, such as ID numbers or UW NetIDs. We will not share any personally identifiable information in any publication or presentation resulting from the assessment.

The survey itself will be conducted via Rankin & Associates and not a University server. Participant 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). 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, Rankin & Associates and the 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 groups or take other measures to eliminate any potential for demographic information to be identifiable. Additionally, any qualitative comments will be separated from demographic information at the time of submission to the consultant. Qualitative comments that include identifiable details will have that information redacted before being shared with the University.

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

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

The University of Washington has worked with Rankin & Associates 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 Susan Rankin, Ph.D., 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. 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 has conducted more than 190 institutional surveys and maintains an aggregate merged database. The data from the University of Washington project will be merged with all other existing climate data stored indefinitely on Rankin & Associates’ secure server. No institutional identifiers are included in the full merged data set held by Rankin & Associates. 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 Rankin & Associates directly and kept in a locked file drawer in a locked office. Rankin & Associates destroys the paper and pencil responses after they are merged with the online data. Rankin & Associates will notify the committee chairs of any breach or suspected breach of data security of the consultant’s server.

Rankin & Associates will provide the primary investigator with a data file at the completion of the project.

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.

Development and administration of the survey

How are the survey questions being developed?

The Climate Study Working Group is responsible for developing survey questions, drawing on Rankin & Associates’ repository of tested questions from previous work with more than 190 higher education institutions. The working group will review selected survey questions from Rankin & Associates and will also include University-specific questions that will be informed by discussions with individuals, groups and communities across the UW’s campuses.

Will demographic questions be inclusive in the response options offered?

The climate survey is designed to be as inclusive as possible. This includes making an effort for respondents to see themselves in response choices, rather than potentially feeling marginalized by having to select “other.” As a result, there are long lists of possible choices for many demographic questions. While it isn’t feasible to include every possible choice to every question, the goal is to reduce the number of respondents who must choose “other.”

Why was a non–University of Washington researcher selected for the project?

Members of the University community may feel more comfortable responding honestly to a survey administered by neutral external experts. So while the primary investigator for the survey is Sean Gehrke, Director of the UW Office of Educational Assessment (OEA), the administration of a survey relating to a very sensitive subject like university climate is likely to yield higher response rates and provide more credible findings if conducted by an independent, outside researcher.

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

The primary investigator from the University of Washington for the IRB process is Sean Gehrke, Director of the UW Office of Educational Assessment (OEA). An IRB application will be submitted for the project. Once the project is approved, the survey will be administered.

What is the response rate goal?

The target participation in the survey is all students, faculty and staff on the UW’s Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses. Every response matters and is valuable in providing the most beneficial feedback and results. A response rate of 40 percent is our goal. A minimum of 30 percent for a given campus, college or school is required to provide specific analysis for that unit.

Who will participate in the survey?

Nearly all faculty, students and staff at all three campuses will be invited to participate in the survey. Individuals whose primary affiliation with the UW is through an appointment with hospitals and clinics will not be invited to participate because understanding the climate of such settings calls for a survey design and survey items that are customized in a manner that goes beyond the scope of this particular study.

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

The survey will be administered to all undergraduate, graduate and professional students, faculty and staff at the University of Washington, with the exception of solely clinical personnel within UW Medicine.

Climate varies across institutions and even within campuses, so creating opportunities to maximize participation is important, as well as maximizing opportunities to reach underserved populations. Along these lines, Rankin & Associates has recommended not using random sampling, as we may “miss” particular populations where numbers are very small (e.g., American Indian/Alaska Native students). Since one goal of the project is inclusiveness and for all 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, the University of Washington collects population data on gender and race/ethnicity, but not on disability status or sexual orientation. A sample approach could miss many groups.

Reporting of results

What will be included in the final summary reports?

Rankin & Associates 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 Climate Study Working Group will review draft reports and provide feedback to Rankin & Associates prior to sharing with each campus community.