The Arizona Desert Lamp

Quick thoughts on representative polling

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 30 September 2009

SurveyIn the wake of a faculty poll showing widespread dissatisfaction of the transformation process, the Provost, and the President, a few soft criticisms have emerged. The most widely aired critique is the fact that “only” a third of faculty responded to the poll. From Renee Schafer Horton, at the Citizen:

So, that’s the explanation of my thinking on yesterday’s post — but here’s today’s question: Why did so few faculty vote? Because, to me, the only percentage that really matters in yesterday’s poll is 31 percent – the percentage of eligible faculty that actually took the time (and put up with the admitted poll problems) to say whether or not they think Shelton and/or Hay are doing a good job. Does that mean that two-thirds of the faculty think Shelton/Hay are just fine? Or, that two-thirds of the faculty are apathetic? If so, are they apathetic because they’ve come to believe – after faculty forums and rah-rah administrative e-mails and the whole White Paper process – that no one in the Admin Building gives a hoot what faculty say? Or, are the faculty so busy they don’t have time to vote?

The second relates to the skewed response rate, mostly relating to the fact that SBS and Humanities faculty – which make up 18.9 percent of the total faculty – were responsible for 32.6 percent of the ballots cast. (There’s also the issue of the votes from “emeriti,” which seems like an important issue to address.) As President Shelton put it in his memo (emphasis added):

While there is variable representation across the colleges, and time will be needed to analyze the many open-ended comments, there are nevertheless some very clear themes that stand out in the answers from those faculty who voted.

These are both legitimate issues to be considered; yet it should be emphasized that both of these critiques apply equally well to the survey used to implement the Student Services Fee. In that survey (discussed at length here), only 16 percent of the student body responded to a similar convenience-sample poll, and freshmen and on-campus students – who benefit disproportionately from the services that the fee provides – were disproportionately over-represented in the poll. Yet for the administration and the Board of Regents, this was enough to indicate the “broad student support” necessary to approve the fee.

Were the Arizona Board of Regents consistent in the way that they viewed these sorts of convenience samples, the results of this poll would be accepted without question as indicative of overwhelming faculty support, and both the President and the Provost would be dismissed in a unanimous vote. This goes beyond the wildest dreams of the Defender set – they only wanted to use the poll to indicate a path for future. Of course, there are different standards when it comes to pilfering the pockets of undergraduates.

Image courtesy of Flickr user roboppy.

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