Laird 100: Campus Climate

By President Robert A. Oden Jr.

President OdenWe want to be sure that the College is open to a diversity of opinions and peoples.

While the Campus Climate Survey may sound similar to the Presidents’ Sustainability Pledge (which Carleton signed almost two years ago to work toward carbon neutrality and other sustainability goals), it has little to do with environmental matters. Rather, it deals with levels of respect and support in and out of the classroom. The vigorous life of the mind at Carleton often will and should mean intellectual discomfort, but we want to be sure that the College is welcoming and open to a diversity of opinions and peoples.

A number of colleges and universities across the country have conducted campus climate surveys to examine the current campus culture from the perspective of students, faculty members, and staff members. For example, the consultant Carleton chose to collect data for us—Sue Rankin, senior diversity planning analyst at the Pennsylvania State University and senior research associate with Rankin & Associates Consulting—has worked with more than 75 campuses on similar surveys.

We embarked upon our own climate survey for several reasons. First, the Diversity Initiative Group (DIG) has worked toward a diversity plan for several years, recently completing a Diversity Statement that was approved by a wide variety of Carleton constituencies. DIG recommended that we assess where we are today on a wide variety of diversity issues before we formulate a plan.

Second, Carleton has taken pains to ensure that it is a national leader in student retention and graduation rates. We have been successful; in recent years our overall graduation rates have been rising, and nearly 90 percent of students graduate within four years. Our most recent graduation rate of 93 percent (within six years) placed us among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the country. Our graduation rates for students of color have been somewhat lower, but they are trending upward. Carleton students of color tend to graduate at much higher rates than are typical for major colleges and universities. Still, our retention rates for students of color remain below what we think is right for Carleton.

We administered the Campus Climate Survey in the spring, and Sue Rankin joined us again in September to review the survey results. The DIG campus climate subcommittee, led by Joe Baggot, associate dean of students, aided her work immeasurably. At a special convocation toward the end of September, she presented a summary of her findings; the entire Campus Climate Survey report is accessible online (http://go.carleton.edu/climate). Before our convocation, I asked her how many students, faculty members, and staff members normally attended such gatherings at other colleges and universities. Her answer was about 50 to 75. Not at Carleton. Skinner Chapel was filled as hundreds joined us. Similarly, Carleton’s response rate to the survey questions was notably higher than elsewhere.

The ideal of the academy is rooted in the notion of a free exchange of ideas in an open setting where respect is accorded to all. It is precisely this ideal that we continue to work toward at Carleton—hence the Campus Climate Survey. Openness and respect for all are so vital to us at Carleton that, as in every aspect of a Carleton education, we must always ask ourselves, “Is this the best we can do?” We fulfill the promise of Carleton only to the extent that we formulate ever new and more ambitious goals and then work together to realize these goals. On issues of campus climate, we are all in this together—“all” including both those who are on campus and our alumni. We’re confident that together we will realize new and lofty goals.

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