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A Letter from
Mark Keenum

Dear Mississippi State University community members:

At Mississippi State, we seek to create an environment characterized by openness, fairness, and equal access for all students, staff, and faculty. A welcoming and inclusive campus climate is grounded in mutual respect, nurtured by dialogue, evidenced by a pattern of civil interaction, and is one of the foundations of our educational model. Creating and maintaining a community environment that respects individual needs, abilities, and potential is critically important. 

During 2022-2023, Mississippi State will undertake a vital and relevant climate assessment. This is our chance to make a difference in Mississippi State’s future, our opportunity to make positive, lasting changes and to help create a more inclusive campus. To ensure full transparency and to provide a more complete perspective, we have contracted with Rankin & Associates Consulting, LLC to help lead this effort. Rankin & Associates have conducted over 230 campus climate assessment projects over the last 20 years.

A team from Rankin & Associates will be working with a committee of students, staff, and faculty from Mississippi State to develop and implement the assessment. The results will better enable us to both develop programs and policies that will increase inclusivity in areas which are shown to be problematic and enhance and replicate programs and policies in areas which are shown to be successfully meeting the needs of the community. 

The climate project webpage is being updated to provide communication on the project process and results. We will be updating this page with additional information about the project as it is available.

I hope that you will join me in supporting this important project.

Sincerely,

Mark E. Keenum Signature
Dr. Mark E. Keenum
President
 

Committee Members

Committee members are from varied backgrounds and from different academic areas to ensure the individuals serving in this group represent our diverse community members on campus. The Climate Survey Committee will be tasked with shaping both the survey and the plan for implementation. 

  • David Buys, Associate Professor of Food Science & Nutrition
    College of Ag & Life Sciences
  • Tara Sutton, Assistant Professor of Sociology
    College of Arts & Sciences
  • Kim Walters, Instructor of Math
    College of Arts & Sciences
  • Silivina Lopez Barrera, Assistant Professor of Architecture
    College of Art, Architecture & Design
  • Gnaneswar Gude, Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering
    Bagley College of Engineering
  • Kathleen Thomas, Professor & Department Head of Finance & Economics
    College of Business
  • Qiana Cutts, Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology & Foundations
    College of Education
  • Courtney Siegert, Associate Professor of Forestry
    College of Forest Resources
  • Brittany Moore-Henderson, Assistant Clinical Professor & Director of Admissions and Recruitment, College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Tommy Verdell, Director of Facilities Management
    Campus Services
  • Andrew Rendon, Director of Planning & Assessment
    Student Affairs
  • Tina Belcher, Assistant Director of Housing and Residence Life
    Student Affairs
  • Ann Carr, Deputy Athletic Director
    Athletics
  • Sid Salter, Chief Communications Officer
    Office of Public Affairs
  • Tracey Baham, Assistant Vice President of OIRE
    Provost Office
  • Anna Webb, Staff Council Chair
    Staff Council
  • Delaney Vampran-Foster, Associate Director for Access, Diversity and Inclusion
    Access, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Kristen Burnett, Administrative Assistant for Access, Diversity and Inclusion
    Access, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Ra'Sheda Forbes, Co-Chair, Vice President for Access, Diversity and Inclusion
    Access, Diversity and Inclusion

Climate Survey Project

Presentation

A Campus Climate Survey is a powerful tool to better understand the perceptions and experiences of students, faculty and staff. Below is a presentation from Rankin & Associates Consulting, LLC that will help guide Mississippi State University in identifying strengths and areas for improvement, and measuring progress on key initiatives around diversity, access, and inclusion.

Download PDF

Resources for MSU Employees and Students

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Climate Focus Group Report Action Recommendations

Students offered that they felt a lack of a “sense of belonging”, specifically those in marginalized communities.

Students. Faculty and staff, as well as students, indicated that student’s mental health challenges have increased.

3.	Staff suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way that employees engage with employers. This is an opportunity for the university to examine current work modalities and possibly encourage virtual options (rotating within an office) if applicable.

Staff felt that there were limited advancement opportunities

Timeline

Campus Climate Survey Project Timeline

Frequently Asked Questions


What is campus climate?

Rankin & Associates Consulting, LLC, which is serving as the outside consultant for Mississippi State climate survey, defines campus climate as, “the current attitudes and behaviors of faculty, staff, administrators, and students, as well as institutional policies and procedures, which influence the level of respect for individual needs, abilities, and potential.” The campus climate is shaped through personal experiences, perceptions and institutional efforts.

Why is a positive climate important?

Rankin & Associates Consulting, LLC’s foundational research maintains that positive personal experiences with campus climate and positive perceptions of campus climate generally equate to successful outcomes. Example successful outcomes include positive educational experiences and healthy identity development for students, productivity and sense of value for faculty and staff, and overall well-being for all.

Why is Mississippi State conducting a climate survey?

The idea to conduct a campus climate survey originated from senior administrators,  students, faculty and staff who believed data from such a survey might be useful in planning for the future and improving the climate at Mississippi State.

Who will be conducting the survey?

The Mississippi State Climate Survey Working Group (CSWG) is charged with conducting Mississippi State’s climate survey. After a review of potential vendors, Mississippi State selected Rankin & Associates Consulting, LLC to conduct the survey. Rankin & Associates reports directly to the committee. Although the CSWG will regularly update Mississippi State about its progress, the committee—in consultation with Rankin & Associates—is solely responsible for the development, implementation and interpretation of the survey and its results. Dr. Susan Rankin (Rankin & Associates Consulting, LLC) and Dr. Stephanie Danette Preston are the R&A associates working directly with us on this project. Dr. Rankin is an emeritus faculty member of Education Policy Studies and College Student Affairs at The Pennsylvania State University and a senior research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education. She has extensive experience in institutional climate assessment and institutional climate transformation based on data-driven action and strategic planning. Dr. Rankin has conducted multi-location institutional climate studies at more than 230 institutions across the country. She developed and utilizes the Transformational Tapestry model as a research design for campus climate studies. The model is a “comprehensive, five-phase strategic model of assessment, planning and intervention. The model is designed to assist campus communities in conducting inclusive assessments of their institutional climate to better understand the challenges facing their respective communities” (Rankin & Reason, 2008).  Dr. Preston leads The Pennsylvania State University Graduate School’s efforts to advance diversity and foster a welcoming climate for underrepresented groups as Senior Director of the Office of Graduate Educational Equity Programs (OGEEP). Prior to assuming her role as Senior Director, Dr. Preston worked as a consultant for the Educational Testing Service, served as a National Science Foundation/Math-Science Partnership (NSF/MSP) Postdoctoral Scholar in the College of Education, served as the Assistant Director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, and worked as a high school teacher in Louisiana. Her current research interest focuses on the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Why was a non-Mississippi State researcher selected for the project?

In reviewing efforts by other universities to conduct comprehensive climate studies, several best practices were identified. One was the need for external expertise in survey administration. The administration of a survey relating to a very sensitive subject like campus climate is likely to yield higher response rates and provide more credible findings if led by an independent, outside agency. Members of a university community may feel particularly inhibited to respond honestly to a survey administered by their own institution for fear of retaliation.

How were the questions developed?

The consultant has administered climate assessments to more than 230 institutions across the nation and developed a repository of tested questions. To assist in contextualizing the survey for Mississippi State, and to capitalize on the many assessment efforts already undertaken, the CSWG was formed. The committee is responsible for developing the survey questions. The team will review selected survey questions from the consultant’s tested collection and will also include Mississippi State -specific questions which will be informed by the focus group results.

Why do some demographic questions contain a very large number of response options?

It is important in campus climate research for survey participants to “see” themselves in response choices to prevent “othering” an individual or an individual’s characteristics. Some researchers maintain that assigning someone to the status of “other” is a form of marginalization and should be minimized, particularly in campus climate research which has an intended purpose of inclusiveness. Along these lines, survey respondents will see a long list of possible choices for many demographic questions. However, it is reasonably impossible to include every possible choice to every question, but the goal is to reduce the number of respondents who must choose “other.”

What is the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process for this study?

The primary investigator from Mississippi State for the IRB process is Tracey Baham, Assistant Vice President of the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness at Mississippi State. An IRB application will be submitted for the project. Once the project is approved, the survey will be administered.

What will be done with data from the results?

Although the committee believes the survey process itself is informative, we have sought and received commitment from the senior leaders that data will be used to plan for an improved climate at Mississippi State.

What is the response rate goal?

The target participation in the survey is all students, faculty, and staff at Mississippi State. Every response matters and is valuable in providing the most beneficial feedback and results.

How is a respondent’s confidentiality protected?

Confidentiality is vital to the success of campus climate research; particularly as sensitive and personal topics are discussed. While the survey cannot guarantee complete confidentiality because of the nature of multiple demographic questions, the consultant will take multiple precautionary measures to enhance individual confidentiality and the de-identification of data. No data already protected through regulation or policy (e.g., Social Security number, campus identification number, medical information) is obtained through the survey. In the event of any publication or presentation resulting from the assessment, no personally identifiable information will be shared.

Confidentiality in participating will be maintained to the highest degree permitted by the technology used (e.g., IP addresses will be stripped when the survey is submitted). No guarantees can be made regarding the interception of data sent via the Internet by any third parties; however, to avoid interception of data, the survey is run on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security. In addition, the consultant and college will not report any group data for groups of fewer than five individuals, because those “small cell sizes” may be small enough to compromise confidentiality. Instead, the consultant and the college will combine the groups or take other measures to eliminate any potential for demographic information to be identifiable. Additionally, any comments submitted in response to the survey will be separated at the time of submission to the consultant so they are not attributed to any individual demographic characteristics. Identifiable information submitted in qualitative comments will be redacted and the college will only receive these redacted comments.


Participation in the survey is completely voluntary, and participants do not have to answer any question and can skip any other questions they consider to be uncomfortable. Paper and pencil surveys are also available and will be sent directly to the consultant.

Information in the introductory section of the survey will describe the manner in which confidentiality will be guaranteed, and additional communication to participants will provide expanded information on the nature of confidentiality, possible threats to confidentiality and procedures developed to ensure de-identification of data.
 

What will be included in the final summary reports?

The consultant will provide a final report that will include: an executive summary; a report narrative of the findings based on cross tabulations selected by the consultant; frequencies, percentages, means and standard deviations of quantitative data; and content analysis of the textual data. The reports provide high-level summaries of the findings and will identify themes found in the data. Generalizations for populations are limited to those groups or subgroups with response rates of at least 30%. The committee will review draft reports and provide feedback to the consultant prior to public release.

What protections are in place for storage of sensitive data, including for future secondary use?

Mississippi State has worked with the consultant to develop a research data security description and protocol, which includes specific information on data encryption, the handling of personally identifiable information, physical security and a protocol for handling unlikely breaches of data security. The data from online participants will be submitted to a secure server hosted by the consultant. The survey is run on a firewalled web server with forced 256-bit SSL security and is stored on a SQL database that can only be accessed locally. The server itself may only be accessed using encrypted SSH connections originating from the local network. Rankin & Associates will have access to the raw data. All Rankin & Associates analysts have CITI (Human Subjects) training and approval and have worked on similar projects for other institutions. The web server runs with the SE-Linux security extensions (that were developed by the NSA). The server is also in RAID to highly reduce the chance of any data loss due to hardware failure. The server performs a nightly security audit from data acquired via the system logs and notifies the administrators. The number of system administrators will be limited and each will have had required background checks.

The consultant has conducted more than 200 institutional surveys and maintains an aggregate merged database. The data from the Mississippi State project will be merged with all other existing climate data stored indefinitely on the consultant’s secure server. No institutional identifiers are included in the full merged data set held by the consultant. The raw unit-level data with institutional identifiers is kept on the server for six months and then destroyed. The paper and pencil surveys are returned to the consultant directly and kept in a locked file drawer in a locked office. The consultant destroys the paper and pencil responses after they are merged with the online data. The consultant will notify the committee chairs of any breach or suspected breach of data security of the consultant’s server.

The consultant will provide the primary investigator with a data file at the completion of the project.

Why is this a population survey and not a sample survey?

The survey will be administered to all students at Mississippi State. Climate exists in micro-climates, so creating opportunities to maximize participation is important as well as maximizing opportunities to reach minority populations. Along these lines, the consultant has recommended not using random sampling as we may “miss” particular populations where numbers are very small (e.g., Native American students). Since one goal of the project is inclusiveness and allowing invisible “voices” to be heard, this sampling technique is not used. In addition, randomized stratified sampling is not used because we do not have population data on most identities. For example, Mississippi State collects population data on gender and race/ethnicity, but not on disability status or sexual orientation. A sample approach could miss many groups.

How do I provide feedback?

Your questions and comments are very important as we move through this process. Please share your feedback by contacting the Assistant Vice President for Institutional Strategy and Effectiveness Tracey Baham by email at tlb551@msstate.edu or by phone 662-325-6941.