UW Climate Survey

Frequently Asked Questions

About the survey

Why did the University of Washington conduct 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 that the survey data will be useful for planning and guiding actions to improve the climate at the UW’s Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses.

The UW’s 2017–2021Diversity Blueprint recommended a university climate survey to inform efforts to cultivate an inclusive campus climate. A climate survey was also identified as a priority for the UW Race & Equity Initiative’s work to confront bias and racism at the individual and institutional levels and transform institutional policies and practices. In addition, the survey included 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 students’, faculty members’ and staff members’ 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’re 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 a welcoming, inclusive and respectful environment so 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 in a positive, inclusive climate can we truly achieve our individual and institutional goals — including transformative educational experiences for students, a healthy working environment where faculty and staff can be most effective, and a University community that fosters well-being and a sense of belonging for all.

How will the results be used?

President Ana Mari Cauce, Chancellor Mark Pagano and Chancellor Wolf Yeigh have all committed to using the results of this survey to plan and take effective actions to address critical issues that the survey process identifies. 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 conducted the survey?

The Climate Study Working Group (CSWG) was charged with conducting the UW’s climate survey. Made up of 30 members representing the UW’s three campuses, the CSWG was responsible for guiding the survey, including determining the survey questions.

The University selected Rankin & Associates Consulting to facilitate the survey. Rankin & Associates reported directly to the Working Group. The Working Group updated the University community and UW leadership regularly about its progress. To maintain the integrity of the survey, the working group was responsible for the development, implementation and interpretation of the survey and its results, in consultation with Rankin & Associates.

Susan Rankin, Ph.D., was the lead consultant working directly with the UW 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 the UW are Dan Merson, Ph.D.Emil Cunningham, Ph.D., and Mitsu Narui, Ph.D.

What is the timeline?

This initiative includes five key phases. The first involved focus groups in spring 2019 to identify specific topics that should be addressed. The survey was developed in spring and summer 2019. The survey took place October 8 through November 8, 2019. Reporting of overall and campus-level results will occur in approximately May 2020. After reviewing the results, UW campuses will develop and share action plans beginning in summer/fall 2020. The Office of Educational Assessment hopes to complete basic analysis at the divisional dean and VP levels in approximately August 2020.

How do our campus results compare to the other UW campuses? How do we compare to peer institutions?

On the Seattle Campus, 75% of respondents said that they were comfortable or very comfortable with the campus climate. In Bothell, this number was 79% and in Tacoma it was 74%. This means that across all three campuses, one in four or five people are less comfortable with the overall campus climate and leadership across the university is eager to understand what drives this discomfort and address it.

The response rate for UW undergraduate students was higher than what we generally see from online voluntary surveys. The nuanced nature of this survey makes benchmarking its results against similar institutions (i.e. other universities) difficult and misleading. No two universities are the same, and neither are the experiences of their students, staff or faculty.

Will the UW conduct a study like this again? If so, when?

 The data collected in the 2019 survey will serve as a baseline study which the University hopes to build upon with subsequent research approximately every five years.

How will the University oversight committee and the UW Bothell and Tacoma-specific implementation teams work together? Will Health Sciences be part of the University committee?

 The UW Climate Survey Oversight Committee is a high-level group, charged with reviewing findings, making recommendations and providing strategic direction. Through the Oversight Committee, each of the three campuses will be developing plans to respond to the needs highlighted in the survey results. While there are changes that need to be implemented at a central, university-wide level, many of the plans will be developed and funded at the unit or campus level. The Oversight Committee will ask each college, school and administrative unit to identify an action plan to respond to the needs that are specific to their community based on unit-level reports that the Office of Educational Assessment will issue in autumn of 2020.

How will the UW measure success for the implementation and action plans?

 Rankin & Associates worked with the UW Climate Working Group to create a highly customized survey that addressed the unique circumstances of the UW. The UW will use the results from this initial survey as a baseline for measuring all future efforts made to address the needs highlighted in these results. The UW Climate Survey Oversight Committee will be accountable for tracking and monitoring the follow-through on actions and commitments made in the coming years. 

Information for survey takers

Did I have to take the survey?

Participation was entirely voluntary. Respondents could skip any question and stop at any time. Choosing to submit contact information for the incentive drawing was also voluntary. There were no consequences for choosing not to participate.

How did people take the survey?

Visit yourvoiceyouruw.org to take the survey; this site was redirected after the survey ended. The survey was compatible with most desktop and mobile browsers. Respondents needed to have JavaScript updated and enabled. Paper surveys were also available at the following locations:

  • Bothell campus: Diversity Center (UW1-73)
  • Seattle campus: Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, Mary Gates Hall, Suite 320
  • Seattle health sciences: Health Sciences Building, Room T-301 (contact Butch de Castro)
  • Tacoma campus: Office of Equity & Inclusion, West Coast Grocery (WCG) Building, #103

Who participated in the survey?

Current UW students (undergraduate, graduate and professional) at all three campuses were invited to participate in the survey, as were faculty and staff of UW schools, colleges and administrative units (e.g., OMA&D, UAA, Student Life, HR).

On the survey site, participants chose their primary location: Bothell, Seattle, Tacoma or the Health Sciences schools on the Seattle campus. Health Sciences included staff and faculty employed by one of the six health sciences schools — Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health and Social Work — as well as all students enrolled in an academic program in one of those schools and health sciences administration employees including UW Medicine.

Were there incentives for participating?

After completing the survey, participants could opt in to be eligible for incentives. At that point, they were be taken to a separate site on a different server where they could enter the prize drawing using their UW email address.

For Bothell, Health Sciences and Seattle campuses: Students at each campus could enter to win University Book Store gift cards worth from $100 to $500. Staff and faculty could enter to win $500 in professional-development funds.

For Tacoma: Students could enter to win University Book Store gift cards worth from $100 to $500. Staff and faculty could enter to win $500 in professional-development funds or a reduced price for a Professional Development Center course.

Could employees take this survey while at work?

The University determined that taking the survey is considered release time. Employees did not need to use accrued or unpaid time off in order to take the survey during their workday, but should not have received additional compensation.

Privacy and data security

How was my confidentiality protected?

Because of the sensitive and personal topics discussed, confidentiality is vital to the success of campus climate research. Rankin & Associates took multiple precautionary measures to protect individual confidentiality and de-identify data. The survey did 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 survey.

The survey itself was conducted via Rankin & Associates, not a University server. Participant confidentiality was maintained to the highest degree permitted by the technology used (e.g., IP addresses were stripped when surveys were submitted). No guarantees could be made regarding the interception of data sent via the internet by any third parties; however, to avoid interception of data, the survey ran 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, so that “small cell sizes” don’t compromise confidentiality. Instead, the consultant and the UW will combine groups or take other measures to eliminate any potential for demographic information to be identifiable.

Additionally, any qualitative comments were separated from demographic information when the survey was submitted. Comments that include identifiable details will have that information redacted before being shared with the University.

Paper-and-pencil surveys were also available.

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

The UW 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, and physical security, and a protocol for handling unlikely breaches of data security. The data from online participants was submitted to a secure server hosted by the consultant. The survey ran on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security and stored in a SQL database that can only be accessed locally. The server itself could only be accessed using encrypted SSH connections originating from the local network.

Rankin & Associates project coordinator Susan Rankin, Ph.D., and several Rankin & Associates data analysts have access to the raw data. All Rankin & Associates analysts have CITI (Human Subjects) training and approval and have worked on similar projects for other institutions. The web server ran with the SE-Linux security extensions. The server was also in RAID to highly reduce the chance of any data loss due to hardware failure. The server performed a nightly security audit from data acquired via the system logs and notified the administrators. The number of system administrators was limited, and each 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 dataset 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 surveys were returned to Rankin & Associates directly and kept in a locked file drawer in a locked office. Rankin & Associates destroyed the paper responses after they were merged with the online data. Rankin & Associates will notify the committee chairs of any breach or suspected breach of the data security of the consultant’s server.

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

The introductory section of the survey described how confidentiality is guaranteed, and additional communication to participants provided more information on the nature of confidentiality, possible threats to confidentiality and procedures developed to ensure the de-identification of data.

Where is the data now? What will happen to it? Can members of the UW community access it?

The Office of Educational Assessment is currently analyzing the data and will produce reports for each of the University’s colleges, schools and VP-level administrative units, provided that there are enough responses to do so without compromising confidentiality. The reports will be shared with unit leadership in the fall of 2020. Following a moratorium, data may be available to academic researchers who submit a request to OEA. Separate IRB approval may be required. Contact Sean Gehrke, Director of the Office of Educational Assessment, with further questions. 

Survey development and administration

How were the survey questions developed?

The Climate Study Working Group was 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 reviewed selected survey questions from Rankin & Associates and also included UW-specific questions that were informed by discussions with individuals, groups and communities across the UW’s campuses in spring 2019.

Did demographic questions offer inclusive response options?

The climate survey was designed to be as inclusive as possible. We wanted respondents to see themselves in response choices, rather than potentially feeling marginalized by having to select “other.” As a result, there were long lists of possible choices for many demographic questions. While it wasn’t feasible to include every possible choice to every question, the survey was designed to reduce the number of respondents who must choose “other.”

Why did the survey ask me to provide personal information such as gender expression, veteran status and political affiliation?

People self-identify with a range of affiliations that are important for us to understand. Personal identities are significant factors in situations of inclusion and exclusion in campus environments. Survey takers could skip these questions, but any information that they felt comfortable sharing will help the UW understand what intersecting identities shape the experiences of each person in our community.

Why did the section on sexual assault and harassment include questions about alcohol and other drugs?

The presence or use of alcohol and other drugs never excuses sexual assault, sexual harassment, unwanted touching, relationship violence, stalking or unwanted sexual contact of any kind.

The use of alcohol and other drugs is strongly correlated with incidences of sexual violence at colleges and universities. The questions in this section were developed to help the UW better understand intersections between alcohol/other drugs and sexual violence, sexual harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct.  Responses to these questions will be utilized to develop more effective education, intervention, and prevention strategies that are informed by the voices of people who have experienced sexual violence, sexual harassment, and other forms of sexual misconduct.

As in other survey sections, respondents could skip these questions. Regardless of the survey’s end, if you would like to speak with someone about your experiences, we have compiled a list of campus resources to help.

Why was a non-UW 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), a survey relating to a sensitive subject like university climate is likely to yield higher response rates and provide more credible findings if administered by an independent outside researcher.

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

Sean Gehrke, Director of the UW Office of Educational Assessment (OEA), is serving as the principal investigator and the liaison between Rankin & Associates and the UW’s Human Subjects Division in order to secure IRB approval.

What was the response rate goal?

Every response mattered and is valuable in providing the most beneficial feedback and results. Survey projects of this magnitude typically call for a response rate minimum of 30 percent, which is the level needed to provide analysis for a given campus, college, school or administrative unit. The UW had an aspirational goal of at least 40 percent.

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

Inviting all members of a defined population (rather than a sample of a population) helps ensure confidentiality of all participants. Climate also 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.

How much has been spent on the Campus Climate Survey?

Through a competitive bidding process facilitated by UW Procurement, Rankin & Associates was awarded a contract to design, administer, analyze results from, and write reports for four campus climate surveys. The contract awarded was $283,000.

What financial resources are dedicated to the project going forward?

Centrally, we will cover the cost of baseline school, college, and administrative unit analyses with the UW Office of Educational Assessment. We also have a small amount of seed money set aside to begin working on the most pressing issues that impact us system-wide. While the oversight committee will make recommendations to the President and Provost regarding additional resource allocations at the University level, taking action and realigning resources must occur at the local level as well.

Reporting results

What did the final summary reports include?

Rankin & Associates provided a final report for each campus and the Seattle Health Sciences that included: 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 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 reviewed draft reports and provided feedback to Rankin & Associates prior to sharing with each campus community.

Who received survey results?

Community members have access to their respective campus reports. Further reporting (e.g., by college/school/administrative unit) was administered through the Office of Educational Assessment. For units that met or exceeded the minimum 30 percent response rate, OEA was able to provide basic analysis at the dean/VP level, provided that the response was large enough to protect confidentiality.

How was unit-specific reporting handled? Can I access the data directly to generate reports?

The principal investigator from the University of Washington is Sean Gehrke, Director of the UW Office of Educational Assessment (OEA). Rankin & Associates provided the principal investigator with a data file at the completion of the project.

As the data are IRB-protected, schools/colleges/administrative units will not have access to the raw data. However, further reporting (e.g., by college/school/administrative unit) will be administered through OEA. For units that met or exceeded the minimum 30 percent response rate, OEA was able to provide basic analysis at the dean/VP level, provided that the number of respondents was large enough to protect confidentiality.

Beginning in fall 2020, OEA will provide college/school/administrative unit reports highlighting key summary findings with context, design, and tips for interpretation.

I am a faculty member/student who conducts research on campus climate. Can I have access to the data?

Following a moratorium, data may be available to academic researchers who submit a request to OEA. Separate IRB approval will be required. Contact Sean Gehrke, Director of the Office of Educational Assessment, with further questions.

How were decisions made on what demographic information was collected through the survey? Why do I see information about some demographic groups/identities in the reports but not others?

Rankin & Associates (R&A) drew upon a pre-developed bank of questions and worked with the UW Climate Survey Working Group to identify 37 variables to reflect and capture the demographics that make up the UW community. From there, for the purpose of clarity in the final report, the Working Group helped R&A refine these down to 12 subcategories to be used across the four locations.
After the survey closed, some responses were aggregated or grouped with others in order to protect respondent confidentiality. In all of these instances, the report notes which categories are included in each group.

Why are underrepresented minorities not broken into subgroups in a more detailed way?

The survey provided a list of options for respondents to identify according to a broad range of racial identities along with an open-text field in which respondents could detail their racial identity where it was not found on the list. When reporting insights drew from several smaller groups, the use of detailed racial identity profiles could have compromised the confidentiality of individual people. Rankin & Associates combined racial identities with smaller numbers of self-reported members into this single category to protect each respondent’s confidentiality. 

Why doesn’t Rankin & Associates provide more by way of concrete steps for campus actions?

Because the team from Rankin & Associates (R&A) is not a part of the UW community, its consultants are not living the experience of someone who learns, lives or works on a UW campus. R&A’s role in this Climate Survey was to present the detailed findings to the UW community and help its leadership interpret and engage with the findings as presented. Rather than provide specific recommendations or stipulate follow-up actions, Rankin & Associates aims to empower leadership within the institution to use the findings to take actions that are reflective and informed by the experience of those in the UW community. 

How did Rankin & Associates analyze open-ended responses?

Rankin & Associates (R&A) analysed all of the qualitative (open-ended or written) answers to inform the survey results. Qualitative analysts identified significant themes and trends that showed up in the written responses and included a small selection of comments within the report that helped to support or illustrate those themes. These analysts operate independently from R&A’s quantitative analysts who count and measure responses. Note that this survey was not qualitative research (in the strict sense of the word) because respondents were ‘primed’ to offer open-ended comments. 

Why don’t I see my written responses in the report?

Rankin & Associates incorporated all of the written responses into its overall analysis, to identify significant themes and trends in these responses. To keep the report brief and clear, only a small collection of comments on each theme appears in the report.

Why aren’t responses for some populations specifically included in some or all sections of the report?

For the purpose of clarity in the final report, Rankin & Associates worked with the UW Climate Survey Working Group to refine data from the 37 surveyed categories down to a prioritized grouping made up of 12 analysis variables. In the report, some responses were aggregated or grouped with others in order to ensure respondent confidentiality or to simplify the illustration of wide-ranging categories or where the nuance was not material to the insight. In all of these instances, the report notes which groups are included in each analysis.