Faculty see positives, challenges identified in social climate survey

First Faculty Council meeting of academic year includes discussion with regents

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Members of the CU Faculty Council last week discussed findings of the university’s recent Social Climate Survey, reviewing positives and potential challenges with Board of Regents members Michael Carrigan and Sue Sharkey.

The regents, along with Patrick O’Rourke, vice president, university counsel and secretary to the board, attended the council’s first meeting of the academic year, held Aug. 28 at 1800 Grant St.

“(The survey) is just one step in identifying where (the CU community) may have weaknesses in discrimination,” Sharkey said. “I’m looking forward to that process and working with the faculty.”

O’Rourke presented an executive summary and survey highlights, which were first presented to the Board of Regents at its April meeting. The executive summary also is linked from the Board of Regents website.

Similar to survey results from staff and students, faculty across the system were most likely to have reported positively about the state of respect on campuses and within units. The data was generally consistent across the system. One example the summary states is that 73 percent of CU-Boulder faculty and 71 percent of UCCS faculty reported that they felt respected regardless of their political affiliations.

As far as key findings in the summary labeled as “concerning,” three-quarters of faculty reported that they “rarely” or “never” experienced prejudice or discrimination; 20 percent indicated “sometimes” and 5 percent “frequently.” Among those faculty who said they had experienced some prejudice or discrimination, the largest group (48 percent) said gender was the form. Gender also was most mentioned by students (34 percent), while staff mostly indicated age (44 percent).

Council member David Port, chair of the Anschutz Medical Campus Faculty Assembly, cautioned the regents not to overinterpret the survey results, noting that the self-selected survey respondents represented only 10 percent of the entire CU community.

“Use it as a guidepost, and think of global ways of addressing these concerns,” Port said. “But it would be hard to prioritize one (area of concern) over another based on these findings alone.”

Other council members noted that because participation was voluntary, the population who responded may have skewed results.

Carrigan said those and other concerns were “valid points, but we shouldn’t let ‘the perfect’ be the enemy of ‘the good.’”

Sharkey said the survey was intended to give voice to anyone at the university who felt they didn’t otherwise have a voice.

“For the University of Colorado to take the lead on this, we’ve made a statement to the people of Colorado – and across higher education – that the University of Colorado cares about the issues of discrimination,” she said. “That’s a statement I hope we can all be proud of.”

Laura Borgelt, Faculty Council chair, pointed to survey results from students: 96 percent agreed that most or all of their instructors provide a respectful learning environment; 94 percent agreed that most or all of their instructors are tolerant of diverse opinions in the classroom.

“I want to commend the faculty for creating environments where students are learning and can express themselves,” Borgelt said. “That’s in a vast majority of the cases. We are critical, and we should be looking to the survey for places where we can improve, but it’s important that students see an environment that is inviting to learn.”

The regents have recommended that such surveys be conducted every two years. O’Rourke said he sees the survey as part of the larger conversation taking place nationally in higher education about Title IX, and that stepped-up training surrounding diversity issues and surveys at universities might be required by U.S. lawmakers over the course of the next year.

In other business at last week’s Faculty Council meeting:

  • Ken McConnellogue, vice president of communication, updated the council on three system initiatives: an umbrella marketing effort, which is moving forward with a survey of all faculty and staff that’s expected to launch in the coming weeks; a new Constituent Relationship Management system, which, once acquired, will serve as a database hub for communication; and a Faculty Communication Plan, which is being refined by the council’s Communication Committee.
  • The council briefly discussed two motions. One, regarding questions for the CU Health Trust, was referred back to the Personnel and Benefits Committee for further review. Another motion, which regards details in the leave policy for bereavement as it relates to nine-month faculty, was postponed until review of the entire policy takes place later this academic year.