Rutgers Internal Climate Survey

Ruth Chang has posted at What We’re Doing About What It’s Like, describing Rutgers’s efforts to improve things for women. One of the things she describes is an extremely detailed and impressive survey that they give to their own grad students. What especially impressed me is this: When I was a grad student myself, I had a hard time properly perceiving and understanding the ways that the climate in my department were in fact bad. I didn’t really know there was any other way for things to be. If I’d been asked a general question I would have said “everything’s great”. But this survey, it seems to me, asks the sorts of questions that would have let people see from my answers that there was in fact a problem, even if I didn’t see that myself. (My only quibble with it is a section where students are asked whether they think there’s a perceived hierarchy amongst students in terms of ability, and where they think they fall in that hierarchy. I think answering that question would have made me even more desperately insecure.) I urge you all to have a look at the survey, and consider adopting something like it yourselves.

8 thoughts on “Rutgers Internal Climate Survey

  1. Very interesting. Thanks to Ruth Chang for sharing the survey. I can understand the concerns about the ‘hierarchy’ questions, but I can also see how the answers to that question might be usefully revealing. E.g. if there’s a preponderance of (say) women grad students ranking themselves low in the (perceived or actual) hierarchy, that could reveal a problem with the ways esteem is (or isn’t) promoted within the department.

  2. I agree about the hierarchy question. We know that if it is just a question about merit, we should expect people to mostly put themselves as above average. Perceived merit is a different matter, and so there might really be things to learn there.

    In my faculty activism time I dealt with a number of surveys; it would be great to know how Rutgers’ used them, and whether they were able to get over some of the road blocks. One of the problems is that criticism may not lead to change; rather, it can lead to defensiveness and increased hostility. , disguised or overt. (Idaho State, which has been censured by the AAUP on account of just this, is a recent and shocking example of them.) People in change of things may be less likely to say “O dear, how can I change?” and more likely to say “Faculty/students are always complaining; they want things to be easier.” A ‘nice’ variation on this which I directly heard from a dean in an official meeting was “Of course, it’s always the less good ones that complain.”

    Recent research I’ve seen has suggested that required workshops (e.g., all faculty take a workshop on gender whatever) can make things worse. This makes sense; if one already thinks women are second citizens, sitting in a workshop about how to think of them and treat them as first class might cause some pretty negative feelings.

    If the Rutgers women or indeed anyone else have dealt with such issues, it would be wonderful to know. NSF has some suggestions about what to do, but they also try to create a context in which these things are more likely to be positive, by rewarding change among other things. People are more likely to say “O dear, how can we get the $100,000 award” than “O dear, how can we do better.”

  3. Actually, JJ, I’d have a totally different prediction. I’d expect the women to put themselves quite low on the merit hierarchy. And I would certainly have done so. I’d expect the same of other stigmatised groups as well. And also of a fair number of the able-bodied white men: grad school is a very insecure time.

  4. Jender, it might be that in this context,g iven it’s philosophy,, that would happen. I spole of “merit” versus “socially perceived merit” and so maybe just forgot the fact that there are topics where women are inclined, it seems, to rate themselves down.
    I think it is a fairly established fact that if you ask a group of people to rank themselves in intelligence, pretty much everyone is above average.

  5. I would like to point out one significant benefit that I see arising out of the Pluralist’s Guide ranking Rutgers as a place that needs improvement with regard to the climate for women.

    The Pluralist’s Guide is based on a poll of expert opinion. The poll reveals that a group of experts perceive or believe Rutgers to have some serious climate problems for women. It is completely possible for the Guide to accurately report this opinion, even though the actual state of affairs may not be consistent with this opinion.

    The results from the Guide can be used to generate support for faculty at Rutgers who want to improve the department climate. For example by developing, regularly administering, carefully interpreting, and implementing policy based on, surveys such as the one Chang describes. This is an _incredible_ amount of service work and the results reported by the Guide show that this work is important, not only for the internal health of the department, but also for the reputation of the department. Those who do this work deserve concrete support from their colleagues and their institution.

  6. Carla, I think you make a very important observation. It’s worth adding that the departments that come off well in that survey might benefit enormously from doing the same thing.

    It is very hard work. One of the things one encounters is that academia trains us generally to be great critics. Being an agent of constructive change is something else again.

  7. Just a quick remark here. I asked Sally Haslanger if MIT had a climate survey. They don’t, but she very usefully directed me to UMich. And someone there kindly offered both Sally and me a copy of their survey. It would be good to try to rig up a general survey for all to use as a model, and perhaps for the PG to use, especially if was good at uncovering the really problematic depts. I think more on this may be forthcoming (don’t know if it’s available for public consumption), but if not, I’ll aim to post the Rutgers one when we rewrite it this Spring. FYI, several other depts have indicated to me that they are going to start doing self-surveys, and I think it makes sense to tailor them, so surveys from other depts may not be all that helpful.

  8. JJ’s question I’ve kinda tried to answer over on the Rutgers Women’s Open Letter thread – in short, everything JJ says about surveys seems to me dead on here. There’s a real danger of defensiveness. She is also right that mandatory ‘training’ or ‘sensitivity’ sessions didn’t seem to work so well. At Rutgers, there was a shift in attitude. We didn’t really act so much like an institution but more like a bunch of individuals who wanted to make things better. Coming down hard with a bunch of policies and rules would not have worked for us, I’m quite sure. Instead, there were enough people — and crucially male philosophers too — who cared so that the whole culture of the dept changed. It was a subtle thing, and I try to describe it over on the other thread.

    Might I thank people on this thread for the constructive comments? I’m signing off now to deal with some deadlines!

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