Findings and recommendations on climate and culture shared with CSE community

An assessment of the CSE Division’s culture was initiated in response to concerns from CSE students, faculty, and other community members.

The CSE Climate Assessment Committee (CLASS), chartered with overseeing a review of the overall culture and climate in the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Division, hosted two virtual community events in September to share results and recommendations of an external firm. The “Towards the Future” survey findings were also published in a public report.

Led by Professor Tuija Pulkkinen, Chair of the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, the CLASS committee was created “In response to allegations of sexual misconduct, and following an open letter from CSE Division faculty members.

“I want this to be a place where our community feels safe and supported,” said Gallimore in his announcement email to the community. “We must work together to ensure that the future is better, and that no individual works in an environment where they feel unsafe.”

Issues including oversubscribed courses, the need for more support and participation for underrepresented students, and allegations of sexual misconduct involving CSE Division faculty were cited as factors for examining CSE’s climate more closely. The assessment aimed to learn more about the current culture, atmosphere and experiences that impact quality of life at CSE, what steps might meaningfully enhance the near-future culture and atmosphere, and evaluate the success of recent steps in that area. 

Conducted by the third party law firm of Giffen & Kaminski through the “Towards the Future” survey, participants included current graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff, and recent graduates of CSE programs.

Recommendations from the assessment, presented at the community meetings, fell into three categories: steps to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion; steps to heal past sexual misconduct issues and rebuild trust; and steps to address concerns regarding the student academic experience.

“The report provides a great deal of valuable data about experiences and perceptions from across the community,” said CSE Chair Michael Wellman. “The department is in the process of digesting and considering this information systematically, as we work on ways to make the CSE environment work better for everyone.”

Efforts at improving the climate and creating a more inclusive community are already underway at CSE, and many of the department’s initiatives are documented on the Division’s DEI and Climate website. In addition, CSE recently received a grant to enhance the recruitment of women in computer science. 

The Division is also in the early stages of developing a strategic plan including statements of mission, vision, and values that will be grounded in commitments to DEI and a positive culture, according to Wellman.

CLASS Committee chair Pulkkinen hopes that this process will help CSE to build a better climate. “While you obviously need to ensure that the misconduct incidents do not continue, to reach a good climate requires action on everybody’s part,” she said. “It is often the small everyday interactions that people either find encouraging and energizing or derogatory and depressing. So it is up to every individual to be sensitive to the impact of our words.”

Gallimore is the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor of Engineering and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of aerospace engineering. Wellman is the Richard H. Orenstein Division Chair of Computer Science and Engineering and Lynn A. Conway Collegiate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.