Survey’s confidentiality raises questions

Faculty Senate voted to approve a faculty satisfaction survey during the March 7 meeting. The goal is to conduct the survey and post its results before the Higher Learning Commission’s focused visit on April 4-5.

Dr. Holly McSpadden, chair of the Senate ad hoc committee which began creating the survey last year, said the survey will be taken using SurveyMonkey, a survey and questionnaire website.

“This survey will never be on a MSSU computer or a MSSU server. It will be offsite,” McSpadden said, meaning the survey results do not go to an MSSU server. They will be accessible by logging into SurveyMonkey, and only cumulative survey results will be downloaded, not individual surveys.

However, Senators raised concerns about the anonymity of survey participants.

Dr. Grant Lathrom, assistant professor of mathematics, said he has seen the raw data from SurveyMonkey and thinks it could be possible to know how individual people answered because the surveys are sent to specific e-mail addresses.

“Theoretically, if somebody did get ahold of the raw data from SurveyMonkey, there could be an e-mail address that would trace that person back to all of their responses,” Lathrom said.

McSpadden said SurveyMonkey is the same tool used in the shared governance survey last year, and this survey will be just as secure as that one.

Another concern is the classification questions, which ask survey participants questions about their personal employment history, making it possible to break the survey results down into demographics. The questions ask for the participants’ number of years as an MSSU faculty member, their tenure status, department or area of employment, age range and gender. Though the survey states, “Only aggregate analyses will be released by the Faculty Senate,” some senators were still concerned their individual survey results could be used to discover their identities.

One Senator remarked she was the only female, non-tenured, tenure track chemistry instructor in her department, and was worried her individual survey’s responses could easily betray her anonymity.

Vice President of Academic Affairs AJ Anglin offered a solution to that worry. He said that because the survey is already taken on a voluntary basis, anybody concerned about their identity can skip the classification questions.

“The way you solve that is, you don’t fill out that section,” he said.

As of press time, it is still unknown when the survey will be sent to faculty.

McSpadden said the idea behind the survey is to “get a more comprehensive view of what’s affecting the faculty. It won’t be the most vocal people who are setting the agenda.”