CSE Diversity Issues

Climate Activities Survey

On February 27th, 2020, CSE sent a Climate & Activities survey to our community. Undergraduates (including Engineering, LSA, Majors, Minors, and Data Science), Graduates, Faculty, Staff, Research Scientists and Post-Doctoral Researchers were invited to respond. 

We extend our sincere gratitude to everyone who took the time to respond to the survey!

The two main goals of the survey were:

  1. To prioritize medium-term and longer-term activities that might improve issues related to climate, diversity, equity and inclusion, and
  2. To hear feedback, suggestions and experiences.

The survey itself was optional. All questions within the survey were individually optional. Questions were enumerated with the help of several student-led events and student groups.

Some of the questions and responses admit comparison with the Fall 2017 All Campus Climate Survey on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Report for the College of Engineering.


Summary

We received 434 valid responses. (An additional 112 interactions lasted less than one minute or did not reach the end of the survey.) Responses included 62% undergraduates, 44% not identifying as men, and 6.9% identifying as members of underrepresented racial or ethnic minorities.

Overall, 32% of responses were satisfied or very satisfied with the climate (compared to 68% of Engineers in the 2017 All Campus Climate Survey). Similarly, 48% of responses agreed or strongly agreed that they had to work harder than others to be valued equally (compared to 26% of Engineers in 2017). These disparities show significant room for improvement in CSE. 

The survey asked participants to indicate their priorities for various changes. Overall, responses were in broad agreement with giving these activities our highest priority:

Create and publicize guidelines explaining how graduate students are supported and protected during advisor conflicts or changes.
Increase capacity in upper-level courses and develop a waiting list policy that allows more students into their top-choice classes.
Reduce overcrowding in office hours and provide support for IAs and GSIs to reserve space elsewhere on Central or North Campus.
Hire more teaching-focused faculty (e.g., lecturers).
Increase transparency involving decisions and processes such as hiring, enrollment, budgeting, and investigations of misconduct.
Improve laboratory culture and promote positive student-to-student working interactions.
Develop policies and support to combat the culture of overwork and “grinding”.
Provide stress, emotional wellbeing and mental health support services focused on CSE without requiring a trip to CAPS.

However, particular groups gave certain actions different priorities (see below for a breakdown). Two notable examples include the following activities that were given higher priority by underrepresented minorities and students not identifying as men:

Revisit GPA and waiting list policies that may disproportionately impact certain groups (e.g., AP/IB credit favors higher socioeconomic-status schools that offer more such courses).
Provide information earlier in the degree program about multiple available career options.

Finally, we have already begun to organize volunteer faculty and student efforts around these priorities. This information will help us focus time and resources on relevant actions to improve our climate. Some activities are more feasible in the medium term and some activities may have more volunteers or available resources.

See Climate Activities Coordination for more information and coordination on how to get involved!

Analysis and Privacy

Disaggregation is the process of breaking down or separating data into categories for analysis. For example, we might want to know the overall most popular answer to a question, but also the most popular answer among women, men, etc. Disaggregation is critical for understanding how issues and concerns affect particular groups and it is widely used in academic statistics. 

However, care must be taken to preserve privacy and confidentiality. Every qualifier or partition restricts attention to fewer people. For example, a query asking about staff who identify as men and answered “agree” to Question 4 may actually be filtering down to one person. Answers to such queries may either reveal, or give significant information about, individuals. 

We informed community members that we would only release broad statistical information. As a result, this public report contains only a few carefully-considered disaggregations. 

Response Rate

As of noon on March 12th, we received 434 valid responses to the survey:

271 Undergraduate Students

117 Graduate & Professional Students

25 Faculty

18 Staff

3 Research Scientists and Postdocs

Determining overall community populations can be a nuanced matter of definition. For example, undergraduate students could be measured by degree conferral counts, but not everyone completes the program. Indeed, climate and DEI issues are relevant to both disproportionate recruitment (entering the program) and retention (completing the program). Similarly, the total number of faculty varies depending on how emeritus and visiting faculty and joint appointments are counted. 

Broadly, however, in Fall 2018, undergraduate CSE enrollment in the third week of classes was 2195 (CSE, CSLSA, CSMinor). In Winter 2020, CSE has 117 master’s students enrolled and 230 PhD students enrolled. In Winter 2020, CSE has 84 lecturer, tenure-track and adjunct faculty. Using those rough population numbers, the undergraduate response rate was 9.3%, the graduate response rate was 34%, and the faculty response rate was 30%. In the 2017 All Campus Climate Survey, the Engineering undergraduate and graduate student response rates were 20% and 22%. 

We observe slightly lower response rates at the undergraduate level, and higher response rates at the graduate student level, than the 2017 All Campus Climate Survey. 

Ethnicity and Gender

After the main survey questions, participants were given the option of providing demographic information. (Percentages do not always sum to 100.) 

Of those who answered a question on ethnicity: 

51.7% White or Caucasian

34.7% Asian or Asian-American

3.2% Hispanic, Latinx or Spanish Origin

2.5% Middle Eastern or North African

0.7% Black or African-American

0.5% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

Of those who answered a question on gender, self-identifications were: 

55.9% Man

36.9% Woman

2.1% Non-Binary or Transgender

Broadly, according to the Registrar, Winter 2020 Computer Science undergraduate enrollment was 22.8% women. Winter 2020 Computer Science undergraduates identifying as Black, Hawaiian, Hispanic, Native American (or Two or More) were 7.3% of all enrolled. Similarly, 25% of students who accepted our Fall 2019 graduate offer of admission were women. The results show higher survey response rates for women.

Overall Priorities

A key goal of the survey was to determine which activities were most important to the community. Participants were shown activities based on their roles: for example, undergraduate students were not asked graduate-specific questions.

Participants rated activities on a 1-5 Likert scale, with 5 being the highest priority. For clarity of presentation, we informally separate out higher, medium and lower priority groups based on natural gaps in score distributions. Regardless, all activities are presented in descending order of response prioritization. 

Including all responses, the highest priority activities (scores in 4.2 – 4.6) were: 

Create and publicize guidelines explaining how graduate students are supported and protected during advisor conflicts or changes.
Increase capacity in upper-level courses and develop a waiting list policy that allows more students into their top-choice classes.
Reduce overcrowding in office hours and provide support for IAs and GSIs to reserve space elsewhere on Central or North Campus.
Hire more teaching-focused faculty (e.g., lecturers).
Increase transparency involving decisions and processes such as hiring, enrollment, budgeting, and investigations of misconduct.
Improve laboratory culture and promote positive student-to-student working interactions.
Develop policies and support to combat the culture of overwork and “grinding”.
Provide stress, emotional wellbeing and mental health support services focused on CSE without requiring a trip to CAPS.

Medium-priority activities (scores in 3.6 – 3.9) were: 

Revisit GPA and waiting list policies that may disproportionately impact certain groups (e.g., AP/IB credit favors higher socioeconomic-status schools that offer more such courses).
Identify classes with disproportionately high grade weightings on a few examinations and revisit those assessment policies.
Increase undergraduate student feedback into, and involvement in, undergraduate-relevant decisions (e.g., enrollment policies, course budgeting, etc.).
Provide IAs, GSIs and instructors with additional training on holding effective office hours.
Increase student feedback into, and involvement in, the faculty hiring process.
Increase student feedback into, and involvement in, the faculty promotion and tenure process.
Expand CSE-specific inclusive teaching training to reach more IAs, GSIs and instructors.
Display posters explaining procedures and options for anonymously reporting misconduct around Beyster (e.g., in public spaces, restrooms, etc.).
Provide information earlier in the degree program about multiple available career options.
Provide structure for students retaking courses, such as meetings with course staff at the start of the semester and resources for how to improve.
Develop a policy for allowing other courses (e.g., from the School of Information or Ross School of Business) to partially satisfy some degree requirements.

Finally, the following activities received the lowest scores (2.7 – 3.5): 

Clarify and publicize funding support and purchasing options for academic activities (e.g., travel, expenses, etc.).
Provide additional resources (e.g., previous homework keys, staff meetings, etc.) to Engineering Learning Center tutors.
Create and publicize information and resources for graduate student job searches.
Expand course evaluations feedback to any course staff with whom you interact, not just those in your registered section.
Develop and support mentoring programs between junior and senior students in the CSE community.
Display imagery highlighting representative alumni and positive research outcomes throughout Beyster.

This priority information is critical for directing student, faculty and staff volunteer effort to improve CSE’s climate.

Priorities – Undergraduates

When attention is restricted to undergraduate students, the results remain broadly the same, which is expected given that they make up the majority of responses. However, these four activities were ranked higher by undergraduates than they were by the overall population: 

Provide IAs, GSIs and instructors with additional training on holding effective office hours.
Identify classes with disproportionately high grade weightings on a few examinations and revisit those assessment policies.
Provide information earlier in the degree program about multiple available career options.
Develop a policy for allowing other courses (e.g., from the School of Information or Ross School of Business) to partially satisfy some degree requirements.

Priorities – Gender

When attention is restricted to participants who did not self-identify as men, the results remain broadly the same. However, with respect to participants who did not identify as men, these three activities were rated much higher: 

Revisit GPA and waiting list policies that may disproportionately impact certain groups (e.g., AP/IB credit favors higher socioeconomic-status schools that offer more such courses).
Expand CSE-specific inclusive teaching training to reach more IAs, GSIs and instructors.
Provide structure for students retaking courses, such as meetings with course staff at the start of the semester and resources for how to improve.

In addition, these two activities received significantly higher scores (although all participants rated these two highly):

Improve laboratory culture and promote positive student-to-student working interactions.

Finally, the general opinions and priorities from participants not identifying as men were much stronger. They gave higher priority rankings when selecting activities (i.e., were more likely to view actions as critical priorities, relatively). 

Priorities – Graduate Students

When attention is restricted to graduate students, two differences emerge. First, graduate students gave the following activity significantly higher scores than did the overall population:

Increase transparency involving decisions and processes such as hiring, enrollment, budgeting, and investigations of misconduct.

Second, graduate students gave the following five activities higher relative priorities than did the overall population: 

Increase student feedback into, and involvement in, the faculty promotion and tenure process.
Increase student feedback into, and involvement in, the faculty hiring process.
Display posters explaining procedures and options for anonymously reporting misconduct around Beyster (e.g., in public spaces, restrooms, etc.).
Expand CSE-specific inclusive teaching training to reach more IAs, GSIs and instructors.
Provide information earlier in the degree program about multiple available career options.

Priorities – Graduate Students and Gender

There is a particular interest in the graduate students who do not identify as men in light of recent departmental concerns and allegations. Such participants give the following activities a higher priority than did the overall response: 

Increase transparency involving decisions and processes such as hiring, enrollment, budgeting, and investigations of misconduct.
Develop policies and support to combat the culture of overwork and “grinding”.
Increase student feedback into, and involvement in, the faculty promotion and tenure process.
Increase student feedback into, and involvement in, the faculty hiring process.
Display posters explaining procedures and options for anonymously reporting misconduct around Beyster (e.g., in public spaces, restrooms, etc.).
Expand CSE-specific inclusive teaching training to reach more IAs, GSIs and instructors.

Priorities – Underrepresented Minorities

When attention is restricted to underrepresented minorities (sometimes written “URM”, and including African-American and Hispanic students, among others, see https://www.engin.umich.edu/about/facts/), a number of trends emerge. 

First, URM participants gave this item very high scores, placing it among the highest priority activities:

Provide information earlier in the degree program about multiple available career options.

Second, URM participants ranked these two items more highly than did the overall responses: 

Develop policies and support to combat the culture of overwork and “grinding”.
Provide stress, emotional wellbeing and mental health support services focused on CSE without requiring a trip to CAPS.

Finally, URM participants ranked these two graduate-related items highly compared to the ovearll population:

Create and publicize guidelines explaining how graduate students are supported and protected during advisor conflicts or changes.
Clarify and publicize funding support and purchasing options for academic activities (e.g., travel, expenses, etc.).

Sentiment Questions

The survey included questions about sentiment or questions with the same wording as those in the All Campus Climate Survey, admitting direct comparisons. These questions were on a 1-5 Likert scale (e.g., “5” was “Very Satisfied” or “Strongly Agree”, as appropriate, etc.). 

First, regarding climate, the mean perception was quite low: 

How satisfied are you with the climate at Computer Science and Engineering?

The mean participant response was a 2.6, compared to 3.6 for the engineering responses to the 2017 All Campus Climate Survey (see Table 9 of that report). In the 2017 All Campus Climate Survey, 68% of those in Engineering said they were “Very Satisfied” or “Satisfied” (see Table 4 of that report), a 4 or 5 on this scale. In this survey, only 32% reported a 4 or 5. 

Second, regarding feelings of fairness and equity: 

I am treated fairly and equitably by my peers in Computer Science and Engineering.
I am treated fairly and equitably by faculty in Computer Science and Engineering.

In this survey, about 76% of responses indicated agreement or strong agreement with both questions. In the 2017 All Campus Climate Survey, 87% showed agreement or strong agreement (Table 13 of that report). We see no significant difference in perceptions of treatment by peers and faculty. However: 

I am treated fairly and equitably by staff in Computer Science and Engineering.

By contrast, 84% of survey participants showed agreement or strong agreement regarding fair and equitable treatment by the staff.

Finally:  

I have to work harder than others to be valued equally at Computer Science and Engineering.

This question provides nuance on the discrimination, the culture of overwork, and imposter syndrome. 47.8% of responses here showed agreement or strong agreement, compared to 25.5% in Engineering (Table 27), almost a two-fold increase. 

We note that participants who did not identify as men gave much more negative responses. Their climate satisfaction mean was 2.39 (vs. 2.76 for men), with only 25% reporting a 4 or 5 (vs 38% for men). Similarly, they reported much worse treatment by peers and faculty (3.47 and 3.67 vs. 4.18 and 4.07 for men). 

Free-Response Comments

Participants were also invited to (1) indicate other activities they would like us to prioritize, and (2) indicate other concerns or feedback. While privacy concerns preclude releasing all individual feedback, a number of trends (e.g., mentioned by more than one person) stand out. We provide a selection of rephrased responses for both questions here.

For suggested activities, most feedback (40 responses) was used to clarify or emphasize actions in the survey. Listed here are all other topics that received three or more mentions (noting that grouping is subjective for qualitative answers), rephrased but retaining the perspective of the responses. Certain categories, in italics, are listed but not elaborated on for privacy reasons.  

Include climate and DEI issues, including misconduct and character, in Promotion, Tenure, Hiring and Firing processes. 
Improve transparency in general (e.g., process requests, the honor council, GSI/IA applications, elective topics, etc.) and specifically when informing students about what is going on (e.g., a whisper network is inadequate; professors should be able to talk about ongoing investigations and whether or not people are on leave).
Comments that explicitly referenced specific EECS courses. 
Take a strong stance and make a statement on the underlying issues. Don’t just have online sexual harassment quizzes that people click through or other “useless” DEI activities. 
Create official, mandatory training for faculty regarding hearing reports of harassment, treating students respectfully, active bystander training, and so on. Require this every few years and have an accountability penalty. 
Offer more social events, including small-group events, informal events, and events for first-year students.
Comments that explicitly referenced OIE, the Office of Institutional Equity.
Apply course material in realistic, up-to-date settings (not sandboxes) and avoid structuring courses assuming students want to go to graduate school. 
Create an official regular feedback system where graduate students review their advisors. 
Avoid duplicating projects between classes and instead focus on synergistic sharing or referencing of material. 
The faculty are responsible for involving more women and underrepresented minorities (e.g., hire more diverse faculty, admit more diverse students).

For other questions, concerns, or feedback, most responses (25) were used to clarify or emphasize previous points or actions. Broad topics that received three or more mentions include:

We need transparency on climate and DEI issues. This includes communicating the current status, the way forward, not merely responding when there is a news article, being specific but being careful about false accusations, listing the consequences for various violations, and updates on progress. 
Positive comments indicating that these actions are a good start; that CSE has a fine, but not perfect, climate; that the responder has not been personally impacted by these issues; or thanks for recent actions. 
Some faculty are dismissive or unresponsive to complaints, condescending to students, cold to staff, sexist, and intimidating. 
Some faculty do not care about teaching. CRLT-E teaching practices are ignored (https://crlte.engin.umich.edu/), inclusive teaching training is not required for faculty, faculty do not always treat students equally, pride in exams with low averages is misplaced, etc. 
Comments suggesting optimism that the department may now be more receptive (e.g., under new leadership or with more committee involvement). 
Many faculty are good and supportive. 
We need more diversity overall, including hiring women and underrepresented minorities.
Mental health should be emphasized more: emotional mistreatment, microaggressions and depression are common but not given adequate weight. 
Comments of personal experiences of sexism or racism from faculty or staff.
It is too hard to meet with, talk to, or connect with professors. Meaningful real conversations, regular office hours and online discussions are all difficult and rare. 
Students are pretentious, arrogant and toxic to each other, including suggestions that people are “only here for because of XYZ”. 
CSE needs more community-building and social activities to foster a sense of belonging.
We must provide more help for graduate students to succeed. This includes recognizing good advisors, health labs, sustainable interactions, constructive criticism, mental health, prelim information, and advice from senior graduate students. 
The formal process for waiving courses (e.g., for transfer students or classes like 281) must be improved.
CSE should offer more support and normalization for switching advisors or labs.

Survey Construction and Acknowledgments

CSE Climate Activities Survey Report prepared on 3/12/2020 by Westley Weimer, CSE DEI Committee Chair.

The actions considered were informed by conversations with students at the January 2020 CSE Town Hall as well as by conversations with individual students and student groups, including CSEG, ECSEL+, ComputingForAll, the EECS DEI Action Committee, and members of HKN and SWE. In addition, Rada Mihalcea (CSE), Laura Hirshfield (Engineering DEI) and John Gonzalez (Director of Institutional Research) consulted on the survey and analysis. 

However, mistakes or faults in the survey or analysis are ultimately the responsibility of Westley Weimer, to whom concerns should be addressed.