Chancellor's Corner: Climate Survey results and future actions

January 21, 2016

On Jan. 21 we released the results of two student climate surveys – one for undergraduate students and one for graduate students. We periodically deploy these surveys because we know academic success and progress toward graduation are often tied to how much our students feel a part of our campus community. We also want to know if students feel safe being who they are and expressing all aspects of themselves. The two surveys were conducted at the end of 2014, and we are committed to addressing the key findings.

The Graduate Student Climate Survey had a 38 percent response rate, providing reasonably reliable data upon which specific issues can be identified and responses to those issues can be designed and implemented.

Key among the findings were that 10 percent of the respondents reported experiencing some form of harassment based upon nine specified manifestations of harassment that included such behaviors as verbal hostility (shouting, profanity, excessive criticism), hostile electronic communication, unwanted or threatened physical contact, and unwanted romantic/sexual comments. We defined harassment broadly, and did not use strict legal definitions, because we wanted the survey to best capture the respondents’ perception of the campus.

A secondary finding was many graduate students felt there was a lack of clarity in graduate student admission/offer letters with respect to the terms of acceptance and financial support that would be provided to students.

Our ultimate goal is to reduce and eliminate any harassment, regardless of the source, and to make our graduate students’ experience as positive as possible.

Please visit the Student Success website for a detailed summary of survey findings and campus action plans.

The Undergraduate Student Climate Survey is deployed every three or four years to provide insight into how our students feel about their lives on campus, especially with respect to their sense of belonging. The survey focused on the student experience in three key areas: classrooms, residence halls, and the campus in general.

Eighteen percent of undergraduates responded to the survey. Respondents generally mirrored the demographics of the student body, and overall undergraduate students described the campus as welcoming and intellectually stimulating. However, about one-quarter of our students do not share these positive impressions and do not feel a sense of belonging or of being welcome on campus. This was especially evident within specific racial and ethnic groups.

This survey did more to specifically address the experience in the classroom and in the residence halls than previous surveys, but we know that climate issues have existed at CU-Boulder from prior surveys. We have taken a number of steps over the years to improve that environment. While we have hired 30 diverse tenure track faculty out of 80 in the last eight years and doubled the population of under-represented students during the same period, these demographic changes have not been accompanied by fundamental shifts in the culture of the campus. We know we can to do better.

Our goal is to ensure all students at CU-Boulder experience a welcoming environment that maximizes their academic performance and prepares them for success after graduation. In the coming months, you should begin to see and hear more discussions about our campus culture and inclusive excellence. These discussions will be open to the entire community - students, faculty, staff and administrators. The reality is that every one of us needs to make a commitment to creating the type of place where everyone can thrive. To see the survey summary and learn more about next steps go to www.colorado.edu/studentsuccess.

Philip P. DiStefano
Chancellor