The Results Are In: USF Climate Survey

Over two years in the making, the USF Campus Climate Survey has announced its findings from nearly 5,000 student, faculty, and staff respondents. The goal of the survey was to answer for USF, the question “How does the environment of higher education impact students’ education?” While a majority of respondents said they were happy with our campus climate, LGBTQ, non-American and low-income students responded that they had less confidence in their “perceived academic success” compared to their straight, American and high-income counterparts. Meanwhile, 59 percent of staff said they seriously considered leaving USF in the past year (many cited the Bay Area’s cost of living as a reason).


In fall 2017, a working group of faculty and staff members teamed up with Rankin & Associates, a consulting firm, to test questions. They conducted 16 focus groups of 109 participants and used the test questions to create the survey tool. They then created a custom survey, which received 4,486 reponses – a 34 percent response rate. Just under half of the respondents were undergraduate students, 25 percent were graduate students, 15 percent were staff members and 13 percent were faculty members. Respondents to the survey were relatively representative with regards to USF’s demographics.


USF had its strengths: 77 percent of respondents were “very comfortable” or “comfortable” with the climate on campus. Moreover, three-quarters of students felt they had faculty they perceived as role models, and 84 percent felt valued by faculty in the classroom.


But upon closer examination of what groups of students demonstrated confidence in their school experience, patterns revealed that students’ “perceived academic success” (PAS) varied by income status, citizenship and sexual identity. “Attitudes towards academic pursuits are an indicator of campus climate,” the executive report stated. But LGBTQ students reported lower PAS than heterosexual students, low-income students had lower PAS than high-income students and U.S. citizens had higher PAS than students who do not hold a U.S. passport.


Beyond PAS, 19 percent of respondents indicated that they had personally experienced exclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct, most of which was based on ethnicity, gender identity and position status. To name two significant breakdowns: 73 percent of trans-spectrum students reported experiencing this conduct, accompanied by 25 percent of women and 13 percent of men. Meanwhile, 22 percent of respondents of color and 20 percent of white respondents also felt this kind of experience (these were both higher than the average for these groups’ experiences on college campuses). Of Asian respondents, 14 percent reported experiencing hostile conduct, and of multiracial respondents, 19 percent reported the same, both of which landed about average. Respondents were invited to elaborate on their experiences, and 401 did.


“Faculty respondents discussed disrespectful and belittling actions by fellow USF employees, various acts of discrimination that they had either witnessed or experienced. Staff respondents elaborated on disrespectful and belittling behavior directed at them by faculty and administrators, as well as discriminatory remarks or acts of discrimination based on individuals’ gender,” the executive summary said. “Student respondents described being the recipient of or witnessing various acts of harassment and/or discrimination based on race/ethnicity and/or disability status. Student respondents also elaborated on their negative experiences of reporting hostile conduct to USF officials or through USF channels.”


Another notable discomfort included the percentages of students with disabilities, who said they were overall “uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with USF’s climate three times as much (multiple disabilities) and twice as much (single disability), respectively, as respondents with no disabilities.


Finally, staff showed high numbers in agreement with feeling valued, supported in taking leave, having resources to pursue professional development opportunities and possessing competitive and having competitive health insurance benefits. Generally, faculty – whether tenured, on the tenure-track, or neither of these – felt that criteria for promotion was clear and teaching was valued by USF. However, 48 percent of faculty and 59 percent of staff indicated that they seriously considered leaving USF in the past year. The most prominent reasons given by both groups were the cost of living in the Bay Area, limited opportunities for advancement, increased workload and low salary/pay rates. More than half of staff members agreed that a hierarchy exists within position “that allows some voices to be more valued than others.”


On Monday, April 30 and Tuesday, May 1, Rankin & Associates formally presented their findings in McClaren to audiences of USF community members. “We want to compare our survey results with our ideals, not the other way around,” President Paul Fitzgerald said at the presentation.


The Executive Summary can be found in its entirety here


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