Washington Update

Department Climate Assessment Tool Shared at NASEM Public Summit

By: Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm
Wednesday, October 26, 2022
On October 19, a team from the University of Minnesota President’s Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct presented on development and implementation of a climate assessment tool for use by academic departments at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s (NASEM’s) fourth annual public summit of the Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education. Many individuals identify more closely with their department or unit than the overall university; therefore, assessing the microculture and microclimate in a department may be advantageous to recognize strengths, identify gaps, and create plans of action to establish best practices for inclusive environments. 

The pilot department climate assessment tool collects both qualitative and quantitative data. Questions were grouped into two categories: 1) prevention: building a culture of respect, and 2) response: handling inappropriate behavior. Each question was scaled on how much the individual agreed with statements about the department, and open text boxes were provided to collect qualitative feedback. To participate in the pilot at the University of Minnesota, departments had to commit to pre and post meetings, as well as creation of an action plan based on the climate assessment data.

Data stored had no connection to the email address used, and the only identifier present asked for the role of the participant (student, staff, faculty, leadership, or other). Each participant’s score from the scaled responses was combined with other scores from members of the same role and reported only in aggregate. However, presenters emphasized the importance of not only looking at overall results, but also disaggregated by role. In the pilot study, they found distinct differences in answers to some questions based on role in the department, indicating that members of the department did not experience the same climate.

Analysis of qualitative comments was consistent with the quantitative results. Overarching themes from comments were:
  • The need for explicit, as opposed to implicit, norms;
  • Questioning if any change would result from the assessment – part of why an action plan was required to participate;
  • Commentary on power and power differentials; and
  • Need for transparency about cases of sexual harassment in the department, both the occurrence and the resulting actions.

The scoring rubric and assessment instrument are available by contacting Karen Miksch, JD, Associate Professor of Higher Education and Law.