University Park

Results released from Penn State's Values and Culture Survey

Community members feel strong connection to Penn State, academic life; University moving to address challenges

Results of the Penn State Values and Culture Survey were released Sept. 19. Credit: L. Reidar Jensen / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State has a strong and engaging culture, and almost universally, faculty, staff and students feel connected to the University and to academic life. There also are challenges at the University when it comes to community members’ comfort with reporting wrongdoing — including distrust of current processes, experiences with retaliation and unfamiliarity with available resources. Those are among the findings of the Values and Culture Survey, conducted last October.

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

The survey, conducted by the Ethics Resource Center (ERC), an independent, nonprofit organization with headquarters in Arlington, Va., was sent to all students, faculty and staff at all Penn State campuses. Results of the survey were released on Sept. 19.

“By conducting this survey, we believe that Penn State has set a new standard for higher education,” said Pat Harned, president of ERC, in a statement. “To ERC’s knowledge, no other major university has conducted a survey of this type and scope and Penn State should be proud to be first to conduct a comprehensive survey of this kind.”

“The results of this survey represent absolutely critical input from the community of people who learn and work at Penn State every day,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “We now have a clearer picture of our shared values and strengths – the things that make Penn State truly great.”

“As a community, we also have identified areas where there is a need for focus and improvement, and we are taking actions to address those issues. With these results in hand, and through frank, ongoing conversation among all members of the University community, we have the opportunity to make a great university even better,” Barron said in a letter to the University community.

Harned said such surveys are common among large, for-profit organizations. Though Penn State is the first major institution of higher education to undertake such an effort, she said the results will be equally useful to University leadership at Penn State, and to leadership at other institutions across the country.

Generally speaking, Harned said results from such surveys “help an organization’s leaders to identify priorities for establishing an ethical culture and to develop the resources and support systems to help all university stakeholders recognize and respond to ethics and compliance issues when they arise. The findings also provide a unique glimpse into the means by which a university can better understand the shared values that guide community members’ decisions and behavior on a daily basis.”

The Penn State Values

Among the survey’s major outcomes, Barron said, is the development of a unified statement of core values, created directly from the feedback of students, faculty and staff at all campus locations. The Penn State community agreed widely on a set of values to which everyone at the University should aspire, including: community, discovery, excellence, integrity, respect and responsibility.

In the coming months, town hall meetings will be held across Penn State’s colleges and campuses, and with other University units and focus groups in order to introduce the proposed values and engage the community in robust conversation about the definition of each value.

LEARN MORE about the proposed Penn State Values.

The findings include:

Engaging culture. Penn State has a strong and engaging culture: almost universally, students, faculty and staff feel connected to the University. Among the survey’s more than 14,600 participants, 95 percent feel at least “moderately connected” to Penn State, including 39 percent who feel “strongly connected.” Five percent of respondents were categorized as “not very connected.”

A strong connection to the University is linked to investment in the community and beliefs about its importance in a positive way. There also is a connection between the community and personal values; 95 percent of those who are strongly connected to Penn State say they have been able to maintain their personal values throughout their experience at the University.

The academic experience drives connection to the university. The academic experience is the primary driver of the community’s connection to Penn State. When asked to identify the activity that makes them feel most connected to the University, the highest percentages of faculty, staff and students (both graduate and undergraduate) selected an activity related to the academic experience.

Members of the academy define success. Members of the academy play a prominent role in determining what success looks like at Penn State. When asked to identify the person who they rely on most to know how to succeed at the University, the greatest number of faculty and students (graduate and undergraduate) selected other faculty members, instructors and advisers.

Pride and support. The majority of respondents overall expressed personal pride and support for the University. Overall, 85 percent of faculty, staff and students said that they are proud to be a member of the Penn State community. This expression of support was also personal for many – 71 percent of all participants consider Penn State’s successes and losses to be their own successes and losses. Fully 91 percent of all respondents believe that Penn State does good things for society.

Football at Penn State. There is no consensus among members of the University community when it comes to the real or perceived emphasis placed on football at Penn State. Faculty and graduate students were more likely to agree that Penn State places too much emphasis on football than were staff members and undergraduate students. Among those who think there is currently too much emphasis on football, the majority believe that the priority given to the sport by Penn State is “about the same” as other, similar universities.

Perception of senior administrators. At Penn State, people describe “senior leadership” in a variety of ways. Depending on a respondent’s position at the University, senior administrators were defined either as the president and vice presidents; the Board of Trustees; deans or department heads; or campus chancellors. Overall, 61 percent of individuals were positive about the ethics-related actions exhibited by the people who they define as senior administrators. This finding was driven largely by graduate and undergraduate students; faculty and staff expressed less positive views.

“During the survey process, ERC experienced an unprecedented level of involvement by senior leaders in the survey initiative,” Harned said. “Senior-level administrators, faculty members and student leaders were actively engaged in the development of the question set, the review of findings, and discussions about next steps. In ERC’s view, Penn State leaders have taken the results of the survey very seriously.”

Penn State’s Office of Ethics and Compliance has announced plans to augment existing training programs and develop new initiatives where needed in order to address challenges surfaced by the survey. This includes regular training for senior administrators and the Board of Trustees on the University’s core values and issues related to ethics and leadership.

Lack of information about / distrust of current processes for reporting wrongdoing, challenges with retaliation and intimidation. The survey results also shed light on challenges at the University, including issues surrounding the reporting of observed misconduct, challenges University leadership and compliance personnel are immediately moving to correct. Across the University, some members of the community reported either a lack of information about, or a distrust of, current resources and practices for the reporting of wrongdoing. University staff members, in particular, are confronted with challenges in certain areas. These include a higher likelihood that they will experience retaliation if they report misconduct, and issues with observed intimidation and bullying in the workplace.

Penn State’s Office of Ethics and Compliance has announced a comprehensive plan to immediately address these challenges. Read more about this plan here.

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

Last Updated September 22, 2014