COLUMN: Explaining CM Life’s methodology for redistributing the 'Presidential Assessment Survey'
The Central Michigan Life newsroom was stunned at the end of the Feb. 17 Board of Trustees meeting as Chair Richard Studley awarded President Bob Davies with a $35,000 annual raise and a one-time $75,000 bonus.
Simply put, the Presidential Assessment Committee’s findings did not add up to what we were seeing and hearing around campus over the past several months.
After multiple campus controversies from the past year:
- Student complaints about campus dining
- Faculty concerns about Davies' participation in shared governance
- A failed website launch
- A $550,000 investigation into university employees based on unfounded allegations
- An investigation into problems in the Honors Program
- Scholarship awards that erroneously told students they had earned financial help (which gained national attention last month)
- A nearly 2,000 student enrollment decline
Let’s just say we expected the findings to be a bit more… mixed.
Last year, the committee was tasked with compiling a comprehensive review of the president’s leadership. The committee, consisting of Studley and trustees Oliver and Wardrop, put out a 25-question survey to a group of 387 “university stakeholders.”
Out of the 193 who responded, the results were overwhelmingly approving of Davies and his leadership strategies. Studley went on to call the president’s leadership “outstanding” and “above-average.”
So, who does the committee define as “university stakeholders?”
Studley writes in the committee’s report that “the individuals were not hand-selected by the board nor the assessment committee; rather, they were chosen based on their membership or participation in groups asked to provide input in the development of the presidential profile used in the 2018 search.”
The committee sent the survey to students, faculty, staff, alumni, local and state leaders, and community members as well as 50 randomly selected students, faculty, staff and alumni and to 13 individuals who served on the 2018 Presidential Search Committee.
Out of respect for privacy, the committee didn’t name the individuals but said it was in pursuit of a “wide range” of stakeholder opinions.
CM Life journalists are trained to value their curiosity and use skepticism as a tool to answer tough questions. A comprehensive survey that’s mainly sent to a select group of people didn’t sound very comprehensive at all.
We wanted to see what would happen if we released the survey ourselves.
That’s exactly what we did on Feb. 23.
We used the Board of Trustees' exact survey and opened it up to anyone with a university email account. That includes students, staff, faculty, and recent alumni — those whose livelihoods depend on a healthy university.
Anyone else who wished to take the survey was encouraged to send their opinions in the form of a letter to the editor.
Using Microsoft Forms, we made sure the survey could only be taken once per person. Like the committee’s survey, names and emails were kept confidential to protect privacy. We posted the survey on our social media pages multiple times a week.
In the first 24 hours after launch, responses to CM Life’s survey surpassed the number the committee gathered for its evaluation. Over the next three weeks, we gathered 509 total responses.
Over the weekend, we combed through the data but it wasn't hard to see a big picture emerge.
Responses showed disapproval for Davies’ leadership on nearly all levels, reflecting the opposite of the Presidential Assessment Committee’s findings.
Now, we’re more curious than ever.
How did two identical surveys, receive such different reactions? What does this say about the health and morale of this community? What other “stakeholders” are being left out of the conversation?
It’s important to mention our survey was not scientific. We didn’t pursue a certain sample size or evaluate our distribution methods. We also acknowledge that the average CM Life reader may be more critical of CMU administrators.
Despite this, our survey uncovered an indisputable truth — hundreds of people at this university feel frustrated by its leadership. I believe, those hundreds of people deserve to be acknowledged by the Board of Trustees and other administrators.
The fact is, if the Board of Trustees wanted an accurate assessment of Davies’ leadership and community morale, they should have just asked us for it. Why not send emails to the campus community and remind us to submit a response? Instead of less than 200 responses, the board could’ve gotten thousands — or at least 509.
In its effort to gather a “wide range” of opinions the board overlooked an entire group of people who are not satisfied with the university’s leadership.
So, what’s next?
CM Life intends to send our data to the president’s office and the Board of Trustees. What they choose to do with our findings, is up to them.
I encourage you, the students, faculty and staff of CMU, to continue to use your voice to help uplift this community. Write a letter to the editor or a guest column and send it to email@example.com
Your opinions are valuable. We care about what you have to say. And we think you deserve to be heard.