Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) | Credit: Harvest Keeney

An anonymous survey of Santa Barbara City College’s employees revealed the school’s overall culture is “unhealthy” and “highly polarized,” affirming the gender and racial concerns that errupted on the campus last year.

“The worst part about a survey is asking people their opinions, only to do nothing with them,” said Howard Deutsch, CEO of the New Jersey–based survey company Quantisoft, which conducted the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Climate Survey. “Not responding to the survey is worse than not doing one at all. It’s on leadership to do something meaningful.”

The survey was sent out to 2,294 employees over a three-week span, although only 711, or 30 percent, responded. There was a total of 64 questions ranging from topics like the college’s response to discrimination and abuse, employee trust and satisfaction in senior leadership, general campus culture, and student diversity and inclusion needs. 

He said the most important question in the survey asked if there is a “high level of trust between the senior leadership team and employees.” That question received the second lowest overall rating: Only 24 percent agreed or somewhat agreed, and the written comments showed their trust in the Board of Trustees was also low.

Respondents could answer the questions with “agree,” “somewhat agree,” “neutral,” “somewhat disagree,” or “disagree.” There were also 588 pages of written comments. The overall rating came to 3.5 out of five, with five meaning everyone agrees and one meaning everyone disagrees. Deutsch said SBCC’s overall rating is “on the low side” based on his more than 20 years of experience conducting surveys on college campuses.

Helen Benjamin

“Until that gap is closed by earning the respect and trust, there is a limit to what can be done to fix anything else,” Deutsch said.

The lowest-scoring question asked respondents if they believe SBCC “handles all reported acts of discrimination against employees effectively.” A mere 13 percent fully agreed, and only 25 percent agreed or somewhat agreed. When asked either “yes” or “no” to having personally experienced exclusionary, intimidating, or hostile and harassing conduct at work, 32 percent of employees responded “yes.” 50 percent said they had witnessed a fellow colleague experience the same mistreatment.

“This is alarming,” Trustee Jonathan Abboud said. “I’m hearing it, and I want employees to know we’re hearing it, and we need to be active about it. A lot of these issues are policy-related and that’s the Board’s responsibility.”

The survey comes after the college survived what was arguably its most tempestuous year loaded with lawsuits, protests, Title IX complaints, an administrator’s use of the n-word, and accusations of free-speech infringement that drew national media attention. The biggest takeaway, Deutsch advised Interim Superintendent President Helen Benjamin and the Board of Trustees at its special September 17 meeting, is that they respond with urgency and show employees that they listen and care.

He recommended that they conduct an additional survey for students in the spring, provide leadership training and require mandatory equity and inclusion training for all managers and senior administrators, and identify and “deal with” all employees unwilling to change behaviors corrosive to equity, moral, and institutional effectiveness, among more than 20 other suggestions. 

“It’s very hard to get adults to change,” Deutsch said. “If they are not willing or able, then maybe they aren’t the right person for the job.” 

The next superintendent-president will inherit the campus culture crisis, as Benjamin’s interim term ends in December. The application period for applicants ended September 16. There is a total of 42 applicants in the running, the majority of which are from outside California, according to Board President Robert Miller. 

“Thanks to everyone who participated,” Benjamin said. “They really laid their souls bare.”


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