Background and history
President Eric W. Kaler’s Initiative to Improve Campus Climate on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus
Campus climate emerged in 2014 as a pressing issue through the Twin Cities campus strategic planning process, as well as past and current grassroots efforts led by campus groups concerned about the experiences of marginalized groups at the University of Minnesota.
To address campus climate issues, in early 2014 President Kaler charged senior leaders with forming the Campus Climate Workgroup (CCWG) to study climate on the Twin Cities campus–what’s working, what resources are in place, and what needs to change. A report detailing their efforts and short- and long-term recommendations was released on Jan. 15, 2015.
Because the University needed broad input from students, staff, and faculty about campus climate concerns, the CCWG endorsed using methods from the Art of Participatory Leadership, also known as the Art of Hosting.
The University began by holding four World Cafés in the fall of 2014. Two in October for students, and one each in November for faculty and staff. Those conversations provided space for people to share their stories and ideas and to inform the recommendations found in the CCWG report.
On Feb. 5, 2015, over 425 students, staff, and faculty came together in an Open Space event called “Campus Climate: From Conversation to Action.” Throughout the day the group discussed more than 50 topics, and scores of recommendations emerged.
During the 2015-2016 academic year, the Campus Climate Workgroup focused on continued implementation of recommendations from the January 2015 report, improving the climate for faculty and staff, continued campus community engagement, and proactive communications. The Campus Climate Engagement Team led several engagement activities, launched a pilot micro-grant project and in collaboration with the Coalition for a Respectful U, created a successful proposal to establish a Bias Response and Referral Network on the Twin Cities campus.
Priorities in the 2016-2017 academic year included a continued push to hire more diverse faculty and staff, collecting data about progress in campus climate efforts and current issues, and fully implementing the Bias Response and Referral Network. The Campus Climate Engagement Team expanded the micro-grant project, conducted research on incentivised equity and diversity training, hosted a workshop "Campus Climate: Resilience, Radical Self Care, and Inclusive Community," and provided ongoing engagement with the campus community.
In fall 2017, in order to better advance campus climate and connect the work happening centrally and in colleges and units, President Kaler asked the Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) to lead a refreshed collaborative campus climate effort and created a Director of Campus Climate Initiatives position, moving an existing position from University Relations to OED. Priorities for this refreshed effort include conducting a needs assessment using available anecdotal and empirical data, information from scholarly research by U faculty, and best practices from campus climate work already underway in colleges and units.
To better understand what activities were underway in colleges and units that work to improve campus climate at the local level, a Campus Climate Inventory was conducted, which yielded results from 25 colleges, departments, and units. Second, a scan was conducted of college and unit websites to identify those which had some version of an equity, diversity, and inclusion committee and any related key initiatives. The result is a growing list of identified committees. From this research, a list of practices is emerging.
The campus climate micro-grant project expanded again in 2018-19, awarding just over $25,000 to 31 projects.