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departmental census: report on 2017 census

Report on 2016-17 Departmental Census

In Fall 2017, the Chicago Survey Lab in collaboration with the SCS Office and division of Professional Matters issued a second departmental census. The census focused on the 2016-17 academic year.

Methods and Response Rate

In 2014, the departmental census was issued to 448 institutions known to teach / have taught Classics at the undergraduate and / or graduate levels. 286 institutions provided some level of response to the census. Many responses were somewhat or very incomplete. In 2017, the departmental census was issued to the same group of institutions. However, only 436 were surveyed as SCS staff could not find contact information for faculty or administrators at 12 very small institutions. The Chicago Survey Lab issued the survey to 436 institutions and received 272 responses at various levels of completeness. A couple of institutions only completed a very few questions. The Chicago Survey Lab calculates the response rate at 62.1% according to standard calculation measures. This is a good overall response rate. However, it should be noted that not all institutions answered all questions. Care must be taken in interpreting the data because of the low response rate to certain questions. See “Interpretation of Results” below. 199 institutions answered the surveys, in whole or part, in both 2014 and 2017.

Survey Instrument

While the surveys in 2014 and 2017 addressed roughly the same questions in terms of department / program type, enrollments, degrees granted, and demographics of faculty and students, there are some significant differences between the two survey instruments. The Professional Matters Division wanted more granular data in the 2017 survey with regard to: (a) types of non-tenure-track faculty and issues pertaining to non-tenure-track faculty; (b) demographics of faculty and students. While this desire in 2017 was laudable, the survey ended up being very long, resulting in many incomplete answers, a large percentage of non-responders, and difficulties in completing the survey on the part of already over-stretched department chairs, departmental administrators, and faculty.

Administration of Survey

The SCS Office provided liaised with the Professional Matters Division and Chicago Survey Lab staff on the development of the survey instrument and also provided up to date contact information to the Chicago Survey Lab. Lab staff generated a data collection sheet in Excel for departments and were available to answer questions from respondents after the survey went live. At many points, Lab staff consulted with the Executive Director in order to assist institutions. However, the fact is that owing to the small staff number at the SCS office and at the Chicago Survey Lab, there was not sufficient staff capacity to provide the necessary assistance to 436 potential respondents and 272 actual respondents.

Interpretation of Results

Because of the difficulties noted above, SCS cannot vouch for the accuracy of enrollment numbers provided. For language enrollments, we recommend consulting the MLA’s Languages Other Than English survey, which surveys on a regular basis a much larger number of institutions and with a much higher response rate. For all questions, those consulting the data should pay attention to the N number, i.e. the number of cases responding to the question or indicating a certain answer for multiple choice answers. The N numbers are quite low for many of the questions regarding demographics of faculty and students as many departments could not provide the detailed information that was requested. As such, the overall diversity of the field, and even of the population of institutions surveyed, may be significantly different from what the survey answers indicate.

Future of the Departmental Census

The experience of the 2016-17 Departmental Census provides some important lessons about data collection. It was ambitious experiment but there was a mismatch between what we wanted to know and what departments could reasonably provide. Going forward, SCS should attempt simpler and more consistent data collection from departments. Further, SCS should not attempt to duplicate efforts already underway and undertaken more professionally by larger organizations such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which now undertakes departmental surveys, and the MLA, which has collected reliable and comprehensive data on language enrollments including Latin and Ancient Greek since the 1950s. Owing to COVID-19, SCS will not be issuing a departmental census in Fall 2020. The next census will be delayed until Fall 2021 and will involve a radically simplified survey instrument, which can be issued to institutions consistently every couple of years over a ten- to fifteen-year period, and hopefully even longer, in order to collect longitudinal data on the state of the field. Given the difficulties that departments had in providing demographic data, it is better to collect demographic data directly from individuals than from their institutions.

Survey Instrument and Data

Survey Instrument (pdf, exported from Qualtrics)

Summary Data (Excel workbook)

Raw data from the 2013-14 census and 2016-17 census may be requested for research purposes from Executive Director, Helen Cullyer ( Raw data files have institution names redacted as it would be possible to identify some individuals based on some answers provided by small departments and programs.

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