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Did the Campus Climate Report neglect Carleton’s political culture?

<nkin presented results from the Campus Climate Survey in late September, she explained that one of the primary motivations for the survey was “to improve the working and learning environment for everyone,” and that “we focus what we do on learning.” The results, however, which have been widely circulated, seem to have glossed over one of the largest impediments to learning found in the Campus Climate Survey.

A question on the survey asked students and faculty to agree or disagree with statements asserting that the classroom climate is welcoming for students based on various demographic characteristics. The executive summary presented to the Carleton community focused on issues such as “Race” or “Psychological Disability Status,” which each saw 16.9% of respondents marking “Disagree” or “Strongly disagree.” However, there was hardly any mention in the report of “Political Views,” the only characteristic to score a higher number for this figure. 34.6% of respondents disagreed with the statement that the classroom climate was welcoming based on “Political views” – more than double the runners up.

“I was one of those 34.6%,” said Michelle Gajewski, Vice Chair of the Carleton Democrats. “I’ve seen conservatives who are unwilling to speak up, or I imagine would feel intimidated or unsure of themselves speaking up in classrooms because we are so liberally dominated, and that’s not something that I want to see, but it’s certainly something you do see at Carleton.”
Gajewski, a senior Political Science/Economics double major, feels that there is not enough political diversity on campus.

“I actually kind of wish there were more Republicans at Carleton,” she said. “When different sides of the political spectrum can talk about the problems and the issues that they see then it helps each side clarify their own views and it helps you define who you are in politics.”

Robert Oden, President of the College, was not concerned by the strong dissent with the statement. “Lots of times I think the classroom should be intellectually uncomfortable, and intellectually challenging, and even intellectually discomforting,” Oden said. “The important balance here is for the classroom to be intellectually rigorous and challenging and often upsetting of what we thought we knew or how we thought to proceed while at the same time being socially, culturally, and emotionally welcoming.”

Jennifer Hightower, Treasurer of the Carleton Conservative Union, does not think that this balance is being achieved: “I personally experienced [situations] where there’s no place for political discussion, and yet it’s blatantly out there and it seems inappropriate.”

Despite the high percentage of students who felt the classroom was not welcoming based on political views, the only mention of this in the entire 130 page report was in the statement: “Learning disability status, marital/partner status, parental status, psychological disability, political views, and veterans/activity military status were indicated as being less welcomed.”

“I think there is a much higher value placed on social diversity,” said Hightower, a junior Russian major who was unsurprised by the lack of discussion of political views. “I find that that kind of intellectual diversity is definitely lacking on this campus.”

In discussing the same data table, a different result was given more focus in the report: “Only 13 percent of Respondents of Color – in comparison with 25 percent of white respondents – thought the classroom climate was welcoming based on race.”

These 13% mentioned in the survey are the respondents of color who marked “Strongly Agree” to the statement “the classroom is welcoming for students based on their race.” The discussion ignored the 32% of students of color who indicated “Agree.” A more accurate statement would be that 45% of respondents of color thought the classroom climate was welcoming based on race.

39% of all respondents – not just political minorities – marked “Strongly agree” or “Agree” for the statement that the classroom climate is welcoming based on political views. Only 12% of all respondents checked “Strongly agree.”

Asked to comment on statements that the workplace climate was welcoming for faculty and staff based on demographic characteristics, “political views” had the second highest level of dissent, after “Institutional status,” with 19% marking “Disagree” or “Strongly disagree.” This finding was not addressed either.

Joe Baggot, Associate Dean of Students and Chair of the Diversity Initiative Group (DIG) subcommittee that oversaw the report, said that based on results, further research is an option.

“The data is ours, so if this is an important finding, we can look at this in greater detail. What does it mean, where does it come from,” said Dean Baggot, who was not familiar with the data regarding political views.

Many have felt that there was bias in the DIG subcommittee. “I could not believe that one of the members of the subcommittee was chosen for that, as he is a very extreme liberal on campus,” said Ms. Hightower, who also said that she emailed Dean Baggot regarding her concerns. “I kind of questioned, you know, why would you put someone on that kind of subcommittee, which should be neutral, trying to find out what the climate really is, with all these biased views.”

Further questions regarding the focus of the report stem from the fact that Professor Rankin is a founding member of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals, an advocacy group for LGBT people on college campuses. Rankin has also written three books regarding sexual minorities in college environments.

Regarding Professor Rankin’s role in discussing the data, President Oden stressed that the primary purpose of the Campus Climate Survey was data collection. “She, like all of us, wants to right wrong and correct injustices,” said Oden. “It’s really hard to make a distinction between purely gathering data and some suggestions.”

“I think part of the challenge of whatever group it is we decide coordinates our efforts going ahead is, how much to take advantage of the great experience and expertise of Professor Rankin, and how much to say ‘thank you for those data, we’re Carleton, we’re not lots of other places, we’ll see what we can do with these data.’”

Video of Professor Rankin’s presentation of the report as well as the full report itself can be found online at

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