As colleges across the nation continue to face growing challenges, dialogues about diversity, bias, safety and security are happening and pointing toward the need for change. As Secretary Duncan recently said, it is critical for college presidents to “lead from the top”, and “when an incident occurs, institutional leadership have a key role in assuring students of their commitment to a safe and welcoming environment for all students and faculty.”
Rick recently sat down with William Nunez, Chief of Staff and Associate to the Chancellor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to discuss how UNL is taking advantage of TIPS to monitor their campus climate and proactively address any issues that may arise.
An excerpt from our interview with Bill is below. Click here to listen to the full conversation.
Many colleges are facing protests right now regarding diversity and intolerance, as well as numerous other safety and security related issues. What led to UNL’s decision to implement TIPS?
A few years ago, we did have a couple instances of some intolerant acts. It was fairly isolated. But, in tandem with that, we were looking at different solutions, for not just reporting acts of intolerance, but a macro system that was available to anyone to submit incidents or even just good news that needed to be elevated to UNL administration or other levels in general. That act of intolerance triggered some action. We started to look around the country for different systems. We did our due diligence to find out what works and best practices, and we found Awareity. We found the TIPS system. It was leveraged by one incident, but more of a global need for the University. We are a large institution; a lot of things happen. We can’t be responsive to all things at all times, so something like this is very beneficial for us to manage.
We have been impressed with how UNL connected representatives from all areas of the college on incident types like Personal Safety and Security, Discrimination or Inappropriate Behavior, Sexual Misconduct, Violation of University Policy, Workplace Concern, Acts of Kindness.
How did you determine which office/personnel would be responsible for receiving/responding to reports? How are you connecting all of the different groups?
The main goal was to use TIPS as a resource. We are a very large institution with a lot of different resources available to faculty, students and staff, but sometimes they are hard to interlink. So, we wanted to embrace the processes and the people that are already here at the University and leverage the benefits of TIPS to maximize the impact of those particular resources. When you think about the type of people that exist on campus – student affairs, human resources, Title IX officers, dean of students, university police for more severe instances, etc. So, behind each of those activities, are people that are trained and sufficiently knowledgeable about those areas. We took a look at the types of incidents and categorized them, and decided what people are most impactful and responsible in these particular fields. That became our TIPS management or steering team. When the TIPS come in, they are distributed to these key individuals who have been trained and empowered with key duties to accomplish once the TIPS are received.
To tie these folks together and connect them, it is really difficult unless we bring these resources together periodically. The tips go to an individual team; let’s pick one – Violation of University Policy – that might go to the team constructed of human resources, business and finance, but they don’t necessarily see the report that goes to public safety. So, periodically, we get together, look at the totality of the tips that were submitted, how they were handled; we look at the speed and adequacy of which they were handled. We do this as a group to connect the dots. There are also 2 or 3 super users that see everything, these folks can see all of the tips that come in; there is no isolation there.
With analytics, TIPS gives us an idea of the patterns that emerge. You mentioned the national scene with discrimination and different levels of intolerance. If we begin to see that at our institution, we will know that there is a culture that is maybe going in a direction, or pattern emerging, that we don’t like to see. We can start to look at University strategies on how to handle or impact campus culture in a proactive way. We would be able to respond if we saw a pattern emerge. That is another true benefit of having this information captured in a central location.
How did TIPS complement current/existing processes and procedures within each individual department?
When we look at the response to the TIPS/incidents, we didn’t want to re-create any existing system at the University. If we had people that reported a violation of workplace policies – there are people that deal with that – but we did not have a mechanism for people that could either anonymously report or a more sufficient way of addressing it at a university-wide level. In that particular way, it allowed us to throw our arms around all of these different support mechanisms and structures that existed and allow them to be much more accessible.
An example is that we had a reporting system in one of our resource offices that dealt with bias. It was already an existing element or reporting mechanism – it was just a web form. But when TIPS came out, the individual that managed this was part of a team and she said, “You know we really should integrate the bias reporting into the central TIPS system.” Bias is now one of our categories – that was a way of looking at and improving our existing processes by centralizing it within TIPS. That is a piece of efficiency and also puts a more robust structure around the bias incidents. We might in the future look at other distinct student issues, student groups, faculty issues, faculty groups – maybe we will dive down deeper and create more categorical areas. We made a commitment to review over a couple of years and see if patterns emerge. So far we are doing pretty well, but we want this to be a flexible system that will adapt to the changing needs of the University and campus culture.
You have to communicate all of these different models – different offices and resources. Generally students stay for 4-5 years, it is a constant re-educating students of all of these different groups. It is easier to have one-point of entry and then let that get distributed. Rather than having fifty different points and making students figure out what resource to access.
You made a commitment as a team to investigate all incident reports within 24 hours; how did you achieve buy-in to make an initiative like this a priority? How do others know actions have been taken?
24 hour is a reaction/act time. As you know, some incidents will take days, weeks, months to nullify. We made that a priority right away. We looked at the TIPS system and said, “the value we will bring is going to be based on how we respond to the incidents we receive.” Many times these may be anonymous so we can’t necessarily immediately show action to a person and say we did these 10 things. But, we have to act on these things and hopefully it will be seen as action throughout the community. We have teams and people who are committed and know these tips must be reviewed within a 24 hour period. A campus safety issue example – there is a construction site, pedestrians are afraid of trucks coming in an out (this is actually a tip we received). Within a 24 hour period this was submitted to our police and facilities team – some barricades and signage were posted within a couple of days. It took a couple days for action to take place, but the reaction time was much less than 24 hours.
That is the commitment we have – to act on it and assign resources. Sometimes we will add additional people to an incident if they have the resources and network within the university or community to make that happen. We committed to the 24 hours because we felt if we didn’t embrace that turnaround, that value proposition would get lost in the shuffle and the community would feel the reaction time was too slow. It is a point of pride that we keep that focus on responsiveness.
It is easy to become overwhelmed with daily responsibilities; how has TIPS helped UNL staff coordinate resources and streamline/automate investigation and intervention efforts?
TIPS is almost a barometer of the campus climate. The daily grind can be overwhelming. TIPS doesn’t add too much as we aren’t replicating systems, but rather using TIPS as a resource. It is an added layer, but it doesn’t add to the workload. What it ends up doing is revealing things we need to act on and then getting it in the hands of the person or people that can implement change around it.
The bias issue is one example is where we were able to streamline a process that existed within the University – it is a system now embedded within a system. I see the opportunity for more of that in the future. We are being very incremental – not trying to address a problem we don’t know exist. It is an additional layer of responsibility, but it is not a burden. It is a resource to make the campus a better place and that’s the goal. It gives people a mechanism to give people to say things that in the past might have gone unsaid.
What feedback have you received from the campus community (students, faculty, staff) regarding TIPS?
We haven’t received a lot of feedback. It hasn’t been negative, it has been positive when someone has been impacted. When someone gets a phone call within 20 minutes, they are astonished.
When it came to implementation, some faculty were leary – worried that if they get a disgruntled student that makes a claim against them and there it lives forever? We have found that that does not occur and that worry is gone. People just don’t do that. We were instructed by Awareity that false reporting doesn’t happen and sure enough – it didn’t happen. When we can respond and do, the feedback is very positive. That is becoming more the norm than the exception.
We also presented at the Faculty senate at the end of the year – quantity of TIPS, type of reports that we received, explained how we responded, the ones that were academically driven were handled at the academic level and not at the administrative, etc. – so this calmed some of that fear or hesitancy from the faculty. The system and actions spoke for themselves.
UNL has been very proactive with promoting TIPS on campus. Can you share some of your ongoing promotion efforts to ensure students, faculty, staff and even community members are aware of the TIPS resource?
We have a population that comes through and then leaves and even those that are here, memories fade, so we have to keep it in front of people and remind them of the TIPS resource. We have committed to a couple of things – every fall and spring semester we do a big promotional push with all outlets – online news, e-mail messaging and news print – we show where it is on the screen (it is on every screen of the website). On the student side, we have also woven it into the new student orientation. They get diversity training, Title IX training, how do I reach out/what are my resources – TIPS is a part of that continued training. The theory is that we are impacting every faculty and staff and every student when they arrive. Students also get e-mails every semester. We try to keep it fresh – messages are hard to cut through – we try to keep it very purposeful and educational.
Any other comments or valuable lessons learned you would like to share with other college leaders regarding TIPS?
To summarize, the one thing we took away is that the centralized resource, that’s really what it is. At any University, we are people of expertise, but we are a community of people that are here to help – whether it is student affairs, administration, faculty member, whatever, there is no one place that exists that allows people to feel comfortable and submit their issue and know it will be acted on. We didn’t have that and now we do.
In tandem with that, you have to have the right people that are a part of it. You have to pull them in as a University-wide effort. The individuals we have as our steering team at the University of Nebraska – are absolutely the most critical part. They are the ones that will act and respond to the submissions with the TIPS centralized system. Identification of those people, identifying roles and keeping it fresh in their minds, and having people oversee the whole operation. These are critical aspects we have learned through the process and have really helped facilitate and get TIPS enacted. The expertise exists at the campus and needs to be harnessed, and rallied around this central objective of incident reporting.
Those 3 things, centralized resource, having the right people and empowering them to feel they can be the response mechanism. Sometimes people look for other people to respond, not here. At UNL, these teams can reach out and solve problems on their own; they are empowered to do so.