Letter to the Editor: UW should use all available means to create a better campus climate

January 30, 2015
The Badger Herald

Lack of evidence about the state of Madison’s “campus climate” proved to be the real surprise at Tuesday afternoon’s Diversity and Inclusion discussion. Remarks by Chancellor Rebecca Blank, Dean of Students Lori Berquam and Interim Chief Diversity Officer Patrick Sims made it sound as if the campus climate is worsening. But is that really the case?

No answer was provided. Instead attendees were told to ask the question: What can I do right now to improve the campus climate? Nobody offered a definition of the term “campus climate.” Nor did anyone offer concrete guidance on how students, staff and faculty could respond to this call for action. Telling everyone they should help make the campus “the best it can be” is not very helpful.

Developing suggestions about what people might do could have been informed by the results of a UW campus climate survey conducted by a consulting firm in 2011. The results of that survey are contained in a more than 300-page report completed in July 2012. Strangely, that report and its appendices can be accessed only by people who have a UW Net ID and password.

This wide-ranging report surveyed students, faculty and staff in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, it being viewed as a microcosm of UW. Although only 8 percent of students and 29 percent of employees (faculty, academic staff, classified staff, etc.) responded, the survey results are described by the UW Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research as being “relevant for UW as a whole.”

Three-fourths of all respondents viewed the overall campus climate as “comfortable” or “very comfortable.” Eighty-three percent of the students gave similar responses.

Approximately 20-25 percent of respondents said they “personally experienced offensive, hostile, exclusionary or intimidating conduct in the past two years.” For the disabled, the figure was higher, 38 percent, while for students the figure was 15 percent. For people of color and whites, their percentage figures were approximately the same at 22 and 21 percent.

When respondents were asked if the inappropriate conduct was due to their gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability status, the numbers answering affirmatively were 45 percent for women, 44 percent for “gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer,” 29 percent for people of color and 24 percent for the disabled.

Much more can be learned from this report, particularly about what kinds of conduct proved to be most inappropriate. This information could have provided useful guidance to attendees on how best to improve Madison’s campus climate.

Why this expensive report has not received greater attention is perplexing. Why the Dean of Students and the Chief Diversity Officer failed to draw on this report needs to be explained.

It remains unclear whether any of the report’s recommendations have been implemented. If they have been implemented, has the campus climate improved as a result? If so, by how much? If not, why not? Why initiate studies of this kind if their findings are to be ignored?

W. Lee Hansen (wlhansen@wisc.edu) is a professor emeritus in the economics department.

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