April 25, 2018

Our next campus climate survey

Earlier this academic year, I asked an advisory committee of students, faculty and staff to give me advice on how Stanford should approach its next campus climate survey. I’m writing now to share the news that, informed by the committee’s very helpful input, we are planning to join the Association of American Universities (AAU) survey that will be conducted in spring 2019.

As background, universities have been using climate surveys to better understand their students’ experiences with sexual violence, relationship violence and other prohibited conduct, as well as students’ experiences at the university overall. The survey process is confidential, and the results are anonymous.

Stanford last conducted a climate survey in 2015, with the intention of surveying the student body every few years. I asked the advisory committee, chaired by Susan McConnell, professor of biology, to collect input from the campus community and make recommendations on the next administration of a climate survey.

The committee’s outreach included meetings with the ASSU Undergraduate Senate, Graduate Student Council, Coalition on Sexual Violence and many individuals, along with two student town hall meetings and two focus groups. The committee also sent an email to all students in February about the status of its work, and it reviewed input collected through an email mechanism it promoted to the community.

In 2015, 26 universities that are members of AAU participated in the AAU survey. Stanford was one of 30 AAU-member institutions that conducted a different survey. Stanford partnered with the University of Chicago and Rice University on a survey design based on a survey that had been used by MIT.

Looking ahead to our next survey, the advisory committee unanimously recommended to me that Stanford not administer a climate survey in 2018 but join the next AAU survey, to be administered in spring 2019. I have accepted that recommendation. Students have voiced overwhelming support for using the AAU survey, and their input has been very valuable.

As the survey approaches next year, we will be working with students and student groups to encourage maximum student participation in the survey, so that we can get the broadest and most accurate picture possible of student experiences at Stanford.

I also need to note a tradeoff embedded in this issue: Participating in a national survey like AAU’s means we will have limited ability to tailor the survey or ask Stanford-specific questions. The advisory committee was fully aware of this limitation, along with the corresponding benefit that participation in the AAU survey would allow Stanford’s results to be better compared with those of other universities. The committee recommended that we consider whether additional or alternate surveys would be useful in the future, and we will indeed include this in our ongoing discussions.

I will be appointing a successor committee of faculty, staff and students, including some who served on the existing committee, to advise on this question, to work on the process for fielding the next survey, and to explore any limited opportunities we have for customization of the AAU survey.

Sexual violence continues to have our full attention at Stanford – preventing it, responding effectively to it, and supporting members of our community who are victimized by it. The next climate survey will be an important part of our efforts. I’m committed to open and ongoing communication with our community about the survey, and you will be hearing much more as the survey approaches.

If you are looking for support related to sexual violence, or if you are seeking additional information about our resources and policies, please visit our Sexual Violence Support & Resources website.