Climate survey unveils concerns

As Interim Chancellor and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer and UM System President Mun Choi prepared to reveal the results of last year’s campus climate survey last Monday, both administrators emphasized the dual nature of the data collected.

“Some of the findings will be positive,” said Choi. “And some indicate we have work to do.”

After introductions from Choi and Bichelmeyer, Senior Research Associate at Rankin & Associates Consulting, Emil Cunningham took the stage at Pierson Auditorium to go over the results with students, faculty and staff.

The 4,650 respondents represent a 25 percent response rate, which Cunningham said is on par with most universities.

While almost 80 percent of students, staff and faculty are comfortable with the climate on campus, the results show that some groups are more likely to feel comfortable than other groups.

UMKC’s strengths (Source: Climate Study for Learning, Living, and Working).

UMKC’s strengths (Source: Climate Study for Learning, Living, and Working).

Women, Black/African American respondents and staff/administrators without faculty rank are less likely to feel comfortable on campus. Low-income students, military service members and multiple disability respondents were also more likely to report feeling uncomfortable with the climate at UMKC.

“While most of these results mirror those at other universities and in society at large, we have to ask ourselves if that is good enough,” said Choi. “The answer is a resounding ‘no.’”

Bichelmeyer said she identified a number of “big takeaways” that will drive the university’s initiatives moving forward. Each theme stems from a particular finding.

Seventeen percent, or around 700 people, reported experiencing hostile or offensive behavior on campus. This, according to Bichelmeyer, is the most important problem needing attention.

“The source is in group,” said Cunningham. “It is peer on peer, student on student, staff on staff.”

Another big take away is the increased need for a sense of belonging and enhanced social life on campus. Thirty-four percent of students reported seriously considering leaving UMKC, with 40 percent citing a lack of sense of belonging and 31 percent citing a lack of a social life.

On the faculty side, over half (54 percent) considered seriously leaving UMKC, citing low salaries and lack of advancement opportunities as important factors.

Choi took it upon himself to address concerns about salaries, telling faculty and staff he appreciates their work and values their input.

“Faculty and staff morale is challenged because of the reductions in support from institutional funding,” said Choi, adding that challenges are understandable with layoffs and budget constraints contributing to already heavy workloads.

He acknowledged that salaries at UMKC, compared to other universities, are “typically in the bottom quintile.”

“You have my commitment to work with chancellors,” he said, addressing faculty and staff directly.

Bichelmeyer identified two other ways the university can address faculty and staff concerns.

UMKC’s weaknesses (Source: Climate Study for Learning, Living, and Working).

UMKC’s weaknesses (Source: Climate Study for Learning, Living, and Working).

“We need to help staff have a voice,” she said, drawing attention to a perceived lack of ability to voice concerns. Only 30 percent of staff respondents felt faculty valued staff opinions.

In addition to addressing concerns over salaries and empowering faculty to voice their concerns, Bichelmeyer also suggested a need to increase support for faculty research.

The number of faculty who reported seriously considered leaving UMKC is clearly something administrators must address. Bichelmeyer suggested continuing to look critically at money allocation.

“Every dollar we spend inefficiently is not helpful to you,” she said. “How you serve students is reflective of how we serve you.”

She reflected on how during times of change, her father would say the key is working smarter instead of working harder.

“I cannot ask you in good conscience to work harder,” she said.

The survey also conveyed the need to ensure students and staff with disabilites receive adequate support and/or counseling. Only 30 percent of students with disabilities register with UMKC’s Office for Services for Students with Disabilities, and only 29 percent of faculty with disabilities said they receive accommodations.

Besides the 80 percent of community members who reported feeling comfortable with climate on campus, the survey highlighted other strengths.

Eighty-four percent of student and faculty respondents were comfortable with the classroom climate, 86 percent of staff respondents felt that supervisors provided adequate support for them to manage work-life balance and 77 percent of student respondents felt valued by faculty in the classroom.

While the data is staggering, administrators are already working to make improvements as they continue to comb through the results.

UMKC administrators will use focus groups to continue assessing the campus climate. For more information about how the university will move forward and address concerns raised by the survey, check out www.unews.com.

 

sd6w8@mail.umkc.edu

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