Letter to the Editor: Response to “CSU – San Bernardino, Students Find Climate Survey Corrupt and a Waste of Tax-Payer’s Money”
Dear Editor of the Westside Story Newspaper,
We are the three faculty members who authored the campus climate report that was referenced in a recent post to the WSN: “CSU – San Bernardino, Students Find Climate Survey Corrupt and a Waste of Tax-Payer’s Money,” June 16, 2016. In this letter, we hope to correct the factual errors contained in that article.
There were two primary charges made within that article. Although we support the students’ right of free speech and an open dialog of issues, we must correct their misconceptions that:
1. Taxpayer money was wasted, and
2. The climate survey was “corrupt” (which we interpret from comments in the story that the survey was seen to be “misleading, conveniently inaccurate, and deliberately designed to attack President Morales and his administration.”)
First, we provide a thumbnail reaction to those charges and then for the interested reader, provide a longer explanation with regard to what we perceive as the most serious charge — that the survey was biased.
1. Waste of taxpayer money: We three faculty who analyzed the data and wrote the report
2. Corrupt” survey: As professionals who conduct surveys as part of our work, the survey were not compensated in any way for the work done. More specifically, we did the work without any payment and we did the work largely on our weekends, outside of our usual university duties.
The survey itself was hosted by a marketing firm in North Carolina, without charge to the campus. Further, we did the work on our home computers, so no state resources, apart from the email program to send the invitations, were used in analysis or report preparation. Thus, the charge that the survey was a “waste of taxpayer money” is untrue, as no state resources were used in its administration, analysis, or report preparation was written, administered, and evaluated according to scientific standards. We took every precaution to be sure that the survey would be an unbiased picture of the campus climate as experienced by the employees of the university.
The survey was conducted to assess climate, which by necessity does include leadership as leaders are largely responsible for the cultures of their organizations. Students, who are not employees of the campus, were not invited to take the survey because: a) it was our understanding that CSUSB’s Office of Institutional Research had planned a climate survey for students for 2016, thus any effort on our part to survey students would have duplicated that planned effort, and b) as item 1 above demonstrates, we had very limited resources with which to conduct the survey.
We applaud the fact that the students who wrote the article for WSN are concerned and are committed enough to speak out. We believe, however, that they are misinformed and that the community is well-served by knowing the facts. We stand ready to meet with the students who wrote the original article to provide further information if they are interested. And for readers who are interested, following is more detail regarding the method by which we conducted the survey.
As discussed in the background section in both reports (Phases I and II), the Senate Ad Hoc Committee was formed and included faculty with extensive expertise in survey design, organizational climate, morale, and leadership, survey methods, and data analysis. Additionally, several employees who have substantial knowledge of staff issues on the campus also joined the committee. Three administrators were invited to join the committee; all declined. It was brought to our attention that the administration was working on a student survey. Indeed, as of this writing, a 2016 survey is in development (see Current Student Survey 2015-2016 at www.csusb.edu/institutional-research/institutional-research). Students also have several opportunities to evaluate aspects of university life relevant to their experiences as students. The National Survey of Student Engagement administers a survey on an annual basis and all students have an opportunity to participate (see current year and previous years’ results at www.csusb.edu/institutional-research/institutional-research/national-survey-student-engagement).
The decision to design the survey for faculty, staff, and administrators was appropriate given that organizational climate surveys are typically administered to those employees who have long-
term occupational ties and commitments to the organization, and are most directly affected by the climate. The Chronical of Higher Education (CHE) acknowledges the importance of assessing employee perceptions of climate on a regular basis as a means of understanding employee morale, perceptions of leader effectiveness, job satisfaction, etc. In the CHE national survey titled “Great Colleges to Work For,” the survey sample consists of administration, faculty, exempt and non-exempt staff.
With regard to assertions that the survey was “corrupt” (misleading and designed to disadvantage the President of CSUSB), we direct readers to the Methods section of the campus climate report (Phase I), pages 7 through 9 at http://senate.csusb.edu/reports.htm. The committee began its work by identifying key dimensions of organizational climate based on the relevant literature of climate. We then examined climate surveys that had already been administered at other CSU and UC campuses, including a climate survey of CSUSB staff that was administered in 2010. The majority of the questions in the CSU surveys were in an item database developed at the CSU Chancellor’s Office, and many of those items were in the 2015 CSUSB campus climate survey. The final survey that was administered is open to the public and can be viewed at the following URL: sites.google.com/site/2015csusbcampusclimate. In addition, we encourage readers to review the Frequently Asked Questions, also on that website, to learn more about the survey process.
Steps were taken to minimize biases. For example, when we learned that fall quarter 2015 coincided with the three year review of the campus president, we purposefully waited to launch the survey until after the deadline had passed for the campus community to submit comments about the president to the Chancellor’s Office.
In addition, prior to administering the survey, three CSUSB employees (one of whom was retired) reviewed each item independently to ensure no bias was present in the wording of the items and that the items and instructions were articulated clearly.
Finally, the Campus Climate Ad Hoc committee submitted the full survey and informed consent forms to the CSUSB Institutional Review Board (IRB) and received approval to administer the survey. The IRB is an entity charged with ensuring that appropriate steps are taken to protect the rights and welfare of humans participating as subjects in the research. To accomplish this purpose, IRBs use a group peer review process to review research protocols and related materials (e.g., informed consent documents, surveys, interview questions, and protocol design) to ensure protection of the rights and welfare of human subjects of research.
As professionals in the field of organizational behavior, we know that assessing the climate of any institution on a regular basis is crucial for organizational learning. By surveying organizations, leaders gain a better understanding of the overall attitudes of their employees and use the results to develop or change practices and policies based on the actual survey responses/data. Many successful organizations and institutions, as a best practice, administer climate surveys regularly because they recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy climate, which is positively related to employee commitment, productivity, and satisfaction, among other benefits.
Jan Kottke, Professor, Department of Psychology, chair of the ad hoc campus climate committee
Kathie Pelletier, Professor, Department of Management
Barbara Sirotnik, Professor, Department of Information Decision Sciences