Emory Report
November 15, 2004
Volume 57, Number 12


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November 15, 2004
Climate survey set to go to all employees

BY Michael Terrazas

Beginning the week of Nov. 29, Emory employees will receive at their work addresses a survey that has spent literally years moving from conception to staff and faculty mailboxes.

The Campus Climate Survey will attempt to measure employees’ attitudes toward the University’s working culture: its diversity, level of support for professional development and workplace atmosphere. It has the full support of President Jim Wagner and the administration, which through Human Resources helped develop the survey instrument by contracting with consultant Kevin Nolan of the Atlanta firm SurveyNET.

“As we continue through this academic year, and particularly as we strive toward our goal of being a diverse and ethically engaged community, it is important to take stock of what we think, collectively, about the Emory climate,” Wagner wrote in an Oct. 25 Emory Report column. “I want to invite and encourage your participation in this survey. Without these candid perspectives, we cannot accurately determine what we can do about [that climate].”

The climate survey can trace its roots back four full years to December 2000, when Emory was set to participate in a nationwide survey of college campuses administered through Penn State University. Saralyn Chesnut, director of LGBT life, coordinated Emory’s involvement, and PCORE (then known as PCSM, the President’s Commission on the Status of Minorities) urged its members to participate, but ultimately the University pulled out of the project because of questions regarding research methods.

But the experience left PCORE members determined to come up with their own survey, and by last fall the group had one ready to go. Then came the campuswide discussion about diversity resulting from a widely publicized incident in the anthropology department, and the administration decided to put the full weight of its resources into the survey project.

PCORE has been a full partner every step of the way, working with HR and Nolan on the instrument itself, how it will be administered, and how the data will be assimilated and publicized.

“This is something we’ve been birthing for a while, and now the University is delivering it,” said PCORE Chair Chris Grey, senior assistant director of admission. “[What happened last fall] actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For this to be a University survey, it needed to go through the proper channels.”

Grey and Chair-elect Donna Wong, associate director of multicultural programs and services, have been working with PCORE’s staff concerns committee (currently chaired by Jackie Langham from Facilities Management and Lola Foye from biomedical engineering) to help craft the survey. Former committee chair John Hammond (who is no longer at the University) was instrumental over the past few years in guiding the project, they said.

The survey will be available in two forms, written and electronic. Each Emory employee will receive in his or her mailbox the paper version, which will include a unique reference code in the upper-righthand corner of the first page. All survey responses will be completely anonymous at all stages of the process; the reference code is included to ensure every individual responds only once. Once they receive their paper surveys and reference codes, employees may either fill out the written survey or use the code to fill out an identical survey online.

As for the survey tool itself, the quantitative portion features 38 questions that use a five-point scale to gauge employee attitudes; there is a “don’t know” response for questions on which individuals do not wish to share an opinion. A qualitative component, through which respondents may offer thoughts in their own words, also is included, and the survey concludes with nine demographic questions.

Responses will be accepted through Dec. 10, then all data will be sent directly to Nolan; no one within Emory will see the responses until the results are assimilated and returned. Nolan will create reports both on the division and Universitywide levels, including top five positive and negative attributes, how survey areas rank, and recommendations for follow-up opportunities. The President’s Cabinet will be the first to see the outcome, followed by PCORE.

“What’s important is there are questions about fairness in the workplace, and that was a big concern of staff at the ‘dialogue’ discussions in the spring,” said Wong, referring to a series of five diversity dialogues held in the spring in response to the anthropology incident.

Organized by faculty in Emory’s violence studies program, the dialogues gave University staff an opportunity to talk candidly about their perceptions of Emory’s climate of diversity in the workplace, and to write anonymous comments on notecards. Those comments were assembled and forwarded virtually untouched to Wagner.

Both Wong and Grey were pleased the Campus Climate Survey will give respondents the chance to offer opinions in their own words, as well as provide quantitative data. Most of all, they’re simply happy that a project PCORE long has championed will finally come to fruition.

“It was unfortunate, but without the incident last fall, the survey may not have been the priority it’s been,” Grey said. “We’re hoping that will positively affect participation.”