Results of the first-ever comprehensive survey to see how students, faculty and staff feel being on Kansas State University’s campus are in, and most said they’re fairly comfortable, but there’s work needed on sexual conduct as well as gender and race inclusion.
K-State is the first of the area’s large four-year public institutions — including the University of Kansas, the University of Missouri, the University of Central Missouri and the University of Missouri-Kansas City — to make public the results of a comprehensive campus climate survey. Each said it is in the process or planning to do a survey.
National leaders began asking about the climate on the nation’s college campuses a year ago after it became clear that a significant number of sexual assaults and rapes were largely going unreported on college campuses in part because of a “blame the victim” culture.
In “Not Alone,” the first report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault released last spring, it suggests that campus climate surveys are the most effective way to identify problems on campus.
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“The first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it — and a campus climate survey is the best way to do that,” the report stated. It urged colleges to conduct surveys this year and said efforts would be made to explore legislative or administrative options that would require schools to conduct a survey in 2016.
Then last July, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri championed proposed legislation that, if passed, would require every college and university in the country to do a campus climate survey and make its findings public.
Kansas State had started talking about a comprehensive campus climate survey three years ago and in 2013 began putting one together with the help of the private firm Rankin & Associates Consulting.
“It was a happy coincidence” that our survey also deals with sexual conduct on campus, said Tom Vontz, professor and director of the Center for Social Studies Education at K-State and a member of the campus climate committee at K-State. “We did it to learn about ourselves.”
Given the rising cost of higher education, “I think that it is a reasonable expectation, as a professor and a parent of two college students, for the student to feel comfortable and safe and feel like they are capable of excelling while at the university,” Vontz said.
“The downside is you are exposing all your dirty laundry to the public. But I applaud our administration for having the courage to do that, for recognizing we are not perfect.”
It’s a difficult thing to measure and quantify, he said. “That’s part of the reason why it hasn’t been looked at as much before now.”
In addition to the nation turning a spotlight on campus rapes and sexual assaults, Vontz said he believes that in the last 10 years, more and more universities also have realized “there is more to a student’s education experience than curriculum and the resources available at an institution.”
More than 7,400 people (a 25 percent response rate) responded to the K-State survey from Oct. 14 to Nov. 19.
April Mason, K-State provost and senior vice president, said the survey results “will serve as a great benchmark for future surveys.” However, university officials have not decided how often they will conduct subsequent campus climate surveys.
What this first survey showed is that students — undergraduates and graduates — were more comfortable than were faculty, administrators and staff. Students, for the most part, like their classes and their professors. But nearly half the faculty members aren’t happy about their pay, and those who had seriously considered leaving said it was primarily because of low pay or benefits.
And some people on campus — 19 percent, who tended to be in a minority group — said they have experienced exclusion, intimidation and offensive and/or hostile conduct on campus. Among those 19 percent, more than 200 individuals reported that offensive conduct was based on their gender or gender identity. Some indicated that when a complaint was made to a supervisor, department head or other K-State official, “it was not taken seriously.”
“To have 19 percent say they have experienced some hostile conduct is too many,” Vontz said. He added, though, that Rankin said that percentage is on par with similar universities.
Close to 200 respondents said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact at K-State.
“A high percentage of it happened the first semester in the freshman year, most commonly involving alcohol, occurring off campus,” Vontz said. “I have a daughter here; I want her to have those statistics.”
Although the survey showed 84 percent of those who participated were comfortable on campus, a significantly lower percentage of respondents of color — only 26 percent — were “very comfortable” with the overall climate at K-State. Among multiple-race respondents, it was only 31 percent.
More than 330 respondents elaborated on discrimination, mostly racial, they witnessed at K-State in the past year, the survey report said. International students were one of the main targets of discrimination.
The University of Missouri is in the midst of conducting a campus climate survey, but one focused more on sexual assault. The MU survey was developed by the Association of American Universities and is also being administered at 26 other institutions. Results are expected in September.
“We do think that this (survey results) will provide us with some very important data for federal policymakers,” said Barry Toiv, spokesman for the Association of American Universities.
Some of the other area campuses to conduct campus climate surveys include the University of Central Missouri, which is planning one for fall 2015, led by its Office of Student Experience and Engagement. The University of Central Missouri survey will focus on sexual assault and harassment and include the entire campus community: students, faculty, staff and administrators, said university spokesman Jeff Murphy.
The University of Kansas, which recently received recommendations from a campus task force on sexual assault to centralize sexual violence prevention resources and collect better data, said it’s now gearing up to do a campus climate survey.
“The goal of KU’s effort is very broad,” said E. Nathan Thomas III, vice provost for diversity and equity. “We define climate to include issues related to safety, diversity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability and more.”
University of Missouri-Kansas City officials said they also are planning to conduct a campus climate survey next academic year.