Penn State Values & Culture Survey FAQs

Do you need to know more about the Penn State Values & Culture Survey? Here is a list of frequently asked questions and their answers.

Faculty, staff and students will receive the invitation to participate in the survey via email from outside vendor the Ethics Resource Center (ERC). Everyone should check their email inbox for the invitation, and also check any "spam" or "trash" folders, in case the email is inadvertently filtered out. Participation by all who work and learn at Penn State is urged. Participants can reach the ERC Help Desk by emailing or by calling 800-777-1285. The Help Desk phone line is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Frequently asked questions

What is the purpose of this survey? How will results be used?

This survey is designed to help University leadership gain a fuller understanding of the values and experiences of the people who learn and work at Penn State every day. The end result will be an inclusive statement of shared values; a better understanding of the community’s awareness of University standards of conduct; and a clearer picture of the culture at Penn State when it comes to community members’ actual and perceived ability to report wrongdoing without the threat of retaliation. The results will help University leaders to focus ongoing efforts to ensure that Penn State continues to provide an open, ethical environment for learning and work.

Is this survey confidential?

Yes. In order to provide a way for members of the Penn State community to be candid with their input, Penn State contracted with an independent third-party organization to implement the survey. The Ethics Resource Center (ERC), a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., will distribute the survey and collect data from participants. 

ERC will conduct the survey in a manner that protects the identities of all participants. Responses will be aggregated and only summary data will be provided to Penn State. If a specific demographic group has less than 20 respondents, ERC will not report information that is categorized in a way that will identify that group. Their responses will be combined with others in order to protect the identities of participants.

Why should I participate?

This is an opportunity to provide feedback to the University about two of the most important subjects: the values that we will adopt to govern the way we treat each other, and the culture that we are creating as a community. It is important for everyone who receives a survey invitation to participate. Every voice is important in this conversation, and we need as much information as possible. The greater the participation, the more accurate the picture of Penn State. This picture provides more opportunity to improve Penn State as a place to earn a world-class education and build a rewarding career.

How common are such surveys among other similarly sized employers nationwide? How, generally speaking, does a large organization make use of the results of such a survey?

Among large for-profit organizations, it is common practice to conduct employee surveys about ethics, climate and culture. Results are used to identify ways to strengthen the ethical culture, and also to pinpoint the issues that require attention. These surveys also are helpful in understanding the drivers that either perpetuate or challenge a given culture. Data from these types of surveys help leaders to identify priorities for their ethics and compliance programs, to identify topics for training, and to develop resources and support systems for stakeholders.

We believe that by implementing this survey, Penn State is setting a new standard for higher education. To our knowledge, no other major university has conducted a survey of this type. We are proud to be first, especially among the Big Ten, to conduct a survey of all students, faculty, staff and technical service employees, on all of our campuses.

Why does Penn State need a new values statement?

Penn State has had a set of academic integrity statements that apply to students; the Penn State Principles were established in 2001. Recognizing that 12 years have passed since the University adopted those statements, and also acknowledging that there are many additional values statements that have been developed by various groups on our campuses, it seemed clear that it was time to revisit our core values. A diverse group of students, faculty and staff conducted a University-wide analysis of all the values statements that exist across Penn State. The principles that appeared frequently in these statements are embedded in the survey to test their commonality and acceptance. 

We are undertaking this survey at this time because we recognize that if we can reinforce our commitment to an agreed-upon set of core values, we can be consistent in our expectations and be more effective in our daily work. We need to be able to clarify and articulate the values we all deem most important and worthy of our attention.

Will I get to see the results?

Yes. ERC will deliver an executive summary of the findings in the spring of 2014, and Penn State will publish the document at that time.

I heard that there was some type of iPad giveaway for participating. Is this true and if so, is my information still confidential?

As an incentive for people to participate in the survey, the ERC will be giving away 20 iPads to those who voluntarily enter the contest. Survey participants do not need to take part in the contest and can end their participation after survey completion. However, for those who do want to enter the contest, there will be an area at the end of the survey that will take participants to a separate website to enter their information for the iPad drawing. The third-party vendor, ERC, will draw the winning entries and also will be responsible for mailing the iPad to the winners, so that no one from Penn State will be involved in the actual giveaway.

Is Penn State doing this because of recommendations put forth in the Freeh Report?

In part, yes. Recommendation 1.1 of the Freeh report highlighted the need for Penn State to examine our culture and the extent to which we have a set of core values that guide our decisions. Certainly that recommendation underscored the importance of the effort. But in reality, this process was actually under way before the Freeh recommendation. If anything, the Freeh recommendation was a catalyst for our pulling together the various groups that had already initiated efforts to examine the Penn State Principles.

There is now a committee comprised of administrators, trustees, faculty, staff and students University-wide that has been looking at this issue. The committee is chaired by Karen Wiley-Sandler, chancellor of Penn State Abington, and it is being informed with expert advice from Linda Treviño, Distinguished Professor of Organizational Behavior and Ethics, Smeal College of Business, and Nancy Tuana, DuPont/Class of 1949 Professor of Philosophy and director of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State.

Will the results of this survey be used to dictate employee or student behavior?

No. This survey is an effort to gather input from our community about the values that we already consider to be critical to how we should conduct ourselves. We also want feedback to understand what our stakeholders experience as the Penn State culture. 

The data we receive will be used to identify a set of core values that we can communicate across the entire University, but importantly, they will not be rules to dictate behavior. Core values are broadly stated ideals that offer guidance to help people make good choices when they are not sure of the right course of action in a given situation.

Why is this survey being directed to faculty, administrators, staff and students? What about others?

We take very seriously the views and opinions of all members of the Penn State community, and actively seek their feedback on a wide array of issues. Since the focus of this particular survey is on the current climate at Penn State, we are seeking feedback from faculty, staff and students, as they collectively represent the population that experiences day-to-day life at the University as it exists now. However, this survey represents just one of the current and continuing efforts to gather feedback from our many constituent groups, all of which are focused on the continuous improvement of Penn State.

How much is Penn State paying the ERC to perform this survey, and where is the money coming from?

All work was performed pursuant to a contract with the ERC. The total anticipated cost of the engagement, which is not yet fully complete, is $418,000, a sum paid from crisis-related funds. The scope of the engagement includes the following elements:

-- Phase I: Interviews, meetings and survey development.
-- Phase II: Survey distribution and data collection.
-- Phase III: Report development and delivery.

The University currently is in the third and final phase of the engagement.

Is this initiative following the Office of Research Protections protocol?

The Office for Research Protections (ORP) has discussed with the ERC this survey. As described, any data received by Penn State through the initiative will not be individually identifiable and will be provided in the aggregate. It has been determined that this initiative does not meet the definition of Human Participant Research, as defined by the Department of Health and Human Services Federal Regulations. In meeting the criteria for the DHHS Federal Regulations definition of “human participant research," the initiative must fulfill requirements for BOTH “human participant” and “research."

This initiative, as described, does not require further review by The Pennsylvania State University’s Institutional Review Board or the Office for Research Protections.

Accordingly, Penn State Policy RA14-The Use of Human Participants In Research is not applicable to this initiative.

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Last Updated December 13, 2013