AURORA — The suspended University of Colorado social climate survey has been reinstated, though some students on the Boulder campus say the study intended to gauge discrimination and prejudice still has flaws.
CU’s Board of Regents — which commissioned the survey last year with a budget of up to $110,000 — temporarily suspended it earlier this month after student and faculty concerns surfaced about the study’s validity and methodology.
After changing some demographic questions to make respondents less identifiable and adding a “Frequently Asked Questions” section, the regents released an updated version of the survey last Thursday, said CU system spokesman Ken McConnellogue.
“What we tried to do was address concerns from people that it would be too easy to identify some people by their responses,” he said.
Examples include asking people to select age ranges rather than explicitly asking for their ages, McConnellogue said. The new survey also explains that responses are optional and that the independent third-party survey company will not voluntarily release individual responses.
McLaughlin and Associates and FrederickPolls, two research firms based near Washington, D.C., are conducting the survey. The regents approved it last June, at the same time the board began discussing amending its discrimination policy to include political affiliation and political philosophy.
Concerns about the survey initially ranged from it being a plan to prove that conservative thinkers were discriminated against on the Boulder campus to the regents needing Institutional Review Board approval before launching research involving human subjects.
Some students were concerned about the language used in the survey, including its classifications of gender identity, and the lack of free text space for students to write anecdotally about their experiences on campus.
Several thousand respondents already had completed the survey before it was suspended. McConnellogue said that data has been thrown out, and new data will be collected with this version of the study.
Regent Sue Sharkey, R-Castle Rock, said during the board’s full meeting that 4,500 people have taken the re-worked survey since Thursday. She said the data will be analyzed in May and presented to the regents in June.
“(The survey) will serve as a benchmark,” she said. “We hope to repeat the survey and track our progress. The survey will tell us where the university is succeeding in promoting diversity in all of its forms, but it may also identify areas where we need to improve.”
Last week, Chancellor Phil DiStefano announced that the Boulder campus will launch its own climate survey in the fall. The campus conducts a social climate survey about every three years.Meeting with regents
Ahead of Tuesday’s full board meeting, Boulder campus student leaders Chris Schaefbauer, Ellie Roberts and Marco Dorado met with regents Michael Carrigan, Steve Bosley, Glen Gallegos and Joe Neguse to discuss a number of items, including concerns with the revamped climate survey.
The student leaders said terms used in the reworked survey including “mental impairment” and “homosexual” were offensive to many of their peers.
Carrigan, a Denver Democrat and the board’s chairman, said though he has many friends and contacts in the gay and lesbian community, he was unaware of that perception.
“I know there are a variety of adjectives that they employ, but I personally had never heard that homosexual was pejorative,” he said.
McConnellogue said the GLBTI Committee of the Faculty Council, which represents faculty on all four campuses, recommended the change from “gay” to “homosexual.”
The students also pointed to the lack of student involvement when the regents and the survey companies decided what questions to ask and how.
Schaefbauer, who’s working on a doctorate in computer science, added that graduate students aren’t represented in the survey, which provides only “undergraduate” and “post-graduate” as options.Good intentions
Carrigan, along with the other regents at the meeting, reiterated that though the survey may not be perfect the first time around, the intentions behind it are good. He said a comprehensive, system-wide survey that seeks to gauge discrimination is “revolutionary.”
“How many schools at the highest level say, ‘We want to understand,’” said Steve Bosley, R-Longmont.
Because the regents already suspended the campus climate survey once, it’s unlikely they will send out a third version. Nonetheless, the student leaders said they hope the regents will consider student concerns and viewpoints in the future.
“At this point, the damage is done for the most part, which is unfortunate,” Schaefbauer said after the meeting. “At this point, more than anything, it’s making sure that this doesn’t repeat.”