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University releases 2017 Values and Culture Survey results

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In fall 2017, Penn State conducted a second Values and Culture Survey, which followed up an initial survey performed in 2013. The recent results show a continued strong connection to the University and academic life for members of the Penn State community, as well as significant improvements in areas indicating a strengthening ethical culture. There are also remaining challenges related to reporting wrongdoing.

An executive summary of survey findings and a full report are available online. Full data tables reflecting all responses are also available, along with a summary of the survey methodology. All data are presented in a manner to ensure the anonymity of participants.

The results of the 2017 survey will be the focus of a University Town Hall meeting on June 25.

The survey was conducted by the U.S.-based Ethics and Compliance Initiative (ECI), an independent, nonprofit organization and recognized leader in the field of organizational survey work. It was distributed to all students, faculty and staff at all Penn State campuses in October 2017, and the results were released today (May 30).

“It is very important for us to understand where we are as a community, and where we have to go,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “It’s gratifying to see that we have made a great deal of progress in many areas since the initial survey. 

Read President Eric Barron's letter to the Penn State community.

“However, the data also tell us that there are areas in which we can improve. It is heartening to see the Penn State community — our faculty, staff and students — sharing important information as part of this groundbreaking effort in higher education. I thank them for lending their voices to this significant effort. Our community has made great strides in living and demonstrating the Penn State Values, and we remain committed to making positive progress in these areas.”

The findings include:

Increased awareness of reporting resources. Awareness of the various resources available regarding ethics, compliance and reporting wrongdoing has doubled since 2013 among faculty and staff. “We primarily attribute this to the implementation of a consolidated Annual Compliance Training (ACT) course,” said Regis Becker, chief ethics and compliance officer. The ACT has been a great tool for providing a summary of reporting resources to our employees, while reassuring them that there are options available to them even if they can’t remember every single reporting protocol. The Penn State Hotline is always an option, and it can always be used anonymously.”

Becker added, however, that there are indications of distrust of some reporting processes, and continued fear of potential retaliation — which University leaders plan to focus on addressing in the future.

More visible ethical leadership from senior administrators. Respondents were asked a series of questions about the “ethics related actions” (ERAs) of various groups in both the 2013 and 2017 surveys. In the new survey, 65 percent of faculty expressed a positive view of senior administrators’ actions, as opposed to 45 percent in 2013. Staff belief that senior administrators were good role models of ethical behavior climbed from 42 percent to 68 percent.

“I think efforts that University leadership has made in being more open are being recognized in the survey,” Becker said. “For example, the periodic town halls meetings hosted by leadership, focusing on important issues such as the diversity, employee benefits, health care and more, have helped to foster a more open environment.”

Improved indicators. In the new survey, respondents reported improvement in two of the critical areas for strengthening ethical culture:

  • Respondents reported an increased willingness to report misconduct (26 percent in 2013 versus 40 percent in 2017), with a majority of employees willing to report misconduct (68 percent of faculty and 55 percent of staff);
  • Perception that Penn State retaliates against those who report wrongdoing has decreased (55 percent in 2013 versus 44 percent in 2017);

The survey found a positive correlation between the strength of ethical culture and the number of values embodied in a survey participant’s location.

Observed misconduct. Rates of several types of observed misconduct have increased since 2013, which is common following awareness campaigns like those implemented by Penn State following the 2013 survey. Observed acts of bias and discrimination have increased from 18 percent to 21 percent, according to the data.

“This is a common result after a sustained awareness campaign, generally speaking. We’re hopeful that our survey results mean people are more aware and are much more willing to take action to report misconduct,” said Tim Balliett, University ethics officer. “Penn State has made significant strides since the original 2013 survey, including establishing a central hotline in 2015 to allow employees and students to report misconductinstituting new sexual misconduct reporter training for employees and receiving a $30,000 grant as part of the “It’s On Us PA” campaign to expand educational efforts around sexual assault prevention and education.”

Most misconduct is observed in colleges or units. With the exception of undergraduates, most of the observed misconduct reported in the survey occurs at the college or unit level. This demonstrates the critical role supervisors have in strengthening cultures at this level and also underscores the need for increased resources and education for supervisors in handling reported misconduct.

Misconduct by undergraduates. The most troubling behaviors reported by undergraduates, including substance abuse, sexual misconduct and hazing, are occurring off campus by their peers, according to the survey results.

For the University, the safety of students remains a top priority. Over the past year, Penn State has implemented a number of far-reaching new measures and additional training and education, designed to re-focus the Greek-life community, and the student population at large, on safety. Last June, Penn State implemented strict new measures on Greek-letter organizations aimed at promoting student safety. This past month, Penn State hosted a national conference with other college and university leaders on fraternities and sororities. 

Graduate student culture. Graduate student respondents reported observing acts of bias and discrimination more often in 2017 (21 percent), than 2013 (12 percent). Observed abusive and intimidating behavior also increased from 2013 (13 percent) to 2017 (17 percent). Those graduate students respondents who did not report misconduct cited an increased lack of trust in the process — 70 percent, up from 51 percent in 2013. In addition, a majority of the misconduct they observed was not committed by their peers (unlike faculty, staff and undergraduate students), but rather by other parties.

“Over the past year, we’ve had some very candid and thoughtful discussions with our graduate students,” said Regina Vasilatos-Younken, vice provost for Graduate Education and dean of the Graduate School. “This has led to our hosting a town hall for graduate students, and better publicizing avenues for resolving problems, including the availability of our associate dean for Graduate Student Affairs who serves as an ombudsperson for all graduate students across the University. Our graduate students are a critical part of our campus community, and we are committed to working with them to address their concerns in order to make their experience at Penn State as beneficial and rewarding as possible. We urge any graduate student with a concern to come forward to report.” 

Perception of retaliation. The rate of individuals reporting that they experienced retaliation following a report of misconduct remained the same at 12 percent.

“Retaliation in any form is something we simply will not tolerate as an institution,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “People who stand up and do the right thing by reporting misconduct should not experience retaliation in any form, nor should they suffer social retaliation — harmed reputation, or being ignored or excluded.”

Ballet said, “The perception of retaliation is one of the most difficult statistics to change, often taking several years to do so. We remain committed to reducing real or perceived retaliation through the implementation of an anti-retaliation plan and increased communications about the reporting process and available resources.”

Previous research indicates that when reports of misconduct increase — as they have at Penn State from 2013 to 2017 — reported rates of retaliation also increase. In contrast, Penn State’s reported retaliation rates remained flat or improved slightly.

“In 2013, Penn State took a bold step by implementing the first-ever comprehensive culture assessment in an institution of higher education,” said Patricia J. Harned, CEO of the ECI. “Four years later, results from the 2017 survey demonstrate that the University has brought about positive change in its efforts to promote a stronger culture of ethics and compliance across the institution. ECI regularly evaluates and provides consultation for international Fortune 500 corporations and government organizations on a wide range of ethics and compliance matters, and the work Penn State has done to maintain its strong culture and to further its commitment to integrity is pioneering in higher education.” 

In response to the survey's findings, University leaders are developing a plan to address these challenges and maintain commitment to areas in which results improved. Data specific to colleges, campuses and units will be shared with leadership in the coming months to identify and act upon strengths and challenges in accordance with the plan.

To repeat the above, please visit the following links for access to the following survey-related documents:

For more information contact, Penn State's Office of Ethics and Compliance at 814-867-5088 or at psoec@psu.edu.