Mercer's Moral Climate

Mercer's Moral Climate, Part II (pdf format)

A Preliminary Examination of Mercer's "Moral Climate"[1]

Background and Method

      The roundtable discussions for which this survey was commissioned are sponsored by the Phronesis Project, an AIM-funded center-in-the making devoted to matters of character, practical wisdom and professional formation.[2] The Project's objectives are to promote cross-disciplinary conversation, provide teaching resources, offer faculty-development opportunities, bring the academic and student life parts of campus together around a shared concern, and promote research into student moral development.

This report has three base points, which were shared at the first roundtable discussion, held on 22 October 2009.[3] The first is research that identifies the most important factors in student moral development open, teachable students and a rich, challenging, yet supportive environment. The second is Mercer's commitment to fostering moral development that is expressed in language that talks about honing capacities for moral judgment or discernment, commitment, and action. The third base point is a study commissioned by the American Association of Colleges and Universities that analyzes the climate for fostering social and personal responsibility at 23 institutions of higher education around the country.

      The purpose of this survey was to gather information about Mercer's "moral climate," i.e., how well Mercer's institutional and cultural environment reinforces its moral objectives. The report was intended to provide the basis for a follow-up roundtable discussion and further investigation. The survey was conducted during the spring semester of 2010 by students in an Honors Service Learning class (HON 321.V01) on the topic of practical reasoning, facilitated by Paul Lewis and with the guidance (and computer software) of Tanya Sharon.

 

Focal Questions

 

While the intent of the survey was primarily to gather a wide range of information, we did have some preliminary questions on which we wanted to gather data. Those questions were:

1. Do student attitudes and perceptions differ between their first and senior years, and if so, how? Based on the AAC&U survey, we expected seniors to be less idealistic than first-year students. 

2. How do different levels of involvement relate to student attitudes/perceptions? We expected that students who are more involved in campus life would have more positive attitudes about Mercer's moral climate.

3. Is there a relationship between gpa and student attitudes? We expected students with higher gpas to be more positive.

4. Is there a disconnect between different dimensions of campus life, e.g., between what student and adult leaders say or between what people say and what they do? We expected to find some disconnects, but came to no consensus on how many or serious they might be.

5. In what direction does peer culture influence behavior? Based on observations made during the fall roundtable discussion, we expected to find that peer culture tended to promote behavior that went against Mercer standards.

6. How well do students know what is expected of them? We had no expectation about what we would find in response to this question.

The class, in consultation with Dr. Sharon, developed an instrument that was distributed to students in the Connell Student Center outside of the cafeteria over three days between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.Students were invited to fill out a survey that gathered basic demographic information, measured on-campus involvement, and asked questions that measured attitudes relevant to campus climate, such as one's commitment to Mercer's code of conduct and honor code. All information gathered was anonymous.

 

A total of 238 surveys were completed. Results were coded individually by the students and compiled into one complete data set.The data were first analyzed to identify general trends in students' responses.Secondly, the data were subjected to several statistical tests to identify any statistically-significant relationships between variables.

Results

Demographic Profile: see Appendix 3.

Initial observations on student attitudes, perceptions and behaviors:[4]

 

The responses to our attitudinal questions fell into three major groups. First, for most of the questions, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with statements that

  • Mercer provides a welcoming environment (approximately 88%).
  • Student leaders do an effective job of modeling the kind of character/conduct Mercer expects (approximately 75%; interestingly, no one strongly disagreed).
  • Adult leaders do an effective job of modeling the kind of character/conduct Mercer expects (approximately 84%; interestingly, again no one strongly disagreed, although seven people suggested that Mercer could do a better job in its hiring of staff).
  • Adult leaders send consistent messages about the kind of character/conduct Mercer expects (approximately 73%).
  • It is important to honor the code of conduct (approximately 82%).
  • They aspire to live a moral life (approximately 96%)
  • Mercer has helped them become more personally responsible (approximately 78%)
  • Mercer has helped them become more socially responsible (approximately 74%).

 

The second tier of responses came on the statement that their college education had made them more morally discerning. A majority of those surveyed still agreed or strongly agreed with the statement (approximately 65%), but it was a smaller majority.

The most negative response came on the statement that peer pressure encourages students to live up to Mercer's code of conduct. Here only approximately 36% of the responders agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, whereas 22% were unsure and 40%, the highest number of responders, disagreed or strongly disagreed.

When asked where Mercer most effectively holds students accountable to its rules and regulations, over 50%of those responding identified the Honor Code, followed by housing policies at just over 20%, then Code of Conduct at 15%.

 

      Regarding student behaviors, we note that more than 96% of students surveyed said they had never been charged with an Honor Code violation, but only 93% said they had never violated it. Similarly with Mercer's Code of Conduct, 89% of those surveyed said they had never been charged with a violation, but only 80% said they had never violated it.

Five Sets of Statistically-Significant Relationships:

1. There was a difference betweengendersfor two sets of attitudes, such that women are more likely than men to

  agree that adult leaders send consistent messages (mean scores of 3.83 v. 3.43, respectively)[5]

  agree that honoring Mercer's code of conduct is important (mean scores of 4.23 v. 3.79, respectively)

2. There were differences bygpafor three sets of attitudes. Students with gpas above 3.5 are more likely than students with gpas lower than 3.5 to say that

  Mercer is welcoming (mean scores of 4.4 v. 3.98, respectively)

  adult leaders send consistent messages  (mean scores of 4.1 v. 3.7, respectively)

  their education has made them more socially responsible (mean scores of 4.2 v. 3.9, respectively)

3. Leadership. On this variable, students were classified into two groups based on the number of leadership roles that they held in organizations (some v. none). This measure revealed a difference on only one attitude:  honoring the code of conduct. Those who have some leadership roles are significantlylesslikely to agree that it is important to them to follow the code of conduct (mean scores of 4.21 v. 3.95, respectively).

4. Service. On this variable, students were classified into two groups based on the number of hours of service they do per week (some v. none). This variable revealed a statistically significant difference on two sets of attitudes. Students who perform some community service are more likely to agree that

  peer pressure encourages them to live up to Mercer's expectations (mean scores of 4.23 v. 3.79, respectively).

  their Mercer education has made them more morally discerning (mean scores of 4.23 v. 3.79, respectively).

5.   Class yearrevealed a statistically significant difference on honoring the code of conduct. First-year students are more likely to say it is important to honor the code of conduct than fourth-years (mean scores of 4.3 v. 3.8, respectively).

 

 

Our Findings Compared with AAC&U Results:

Since we did not reproduce the AAC&U study, we cannot make any direct comparisons, but there are two places where we find similar patterns in the responses, even though the specifics of the questions are different.

1. The first broadly concerns the impact of education on moral skills.

  In the AAC&U study, 1/3 of students strongly agreed that their college education helped them learn the skills necessary to change society for the better.

  At Mercer: 1/4 of students strongly agreed that a Mercer education had helped them become more socially responsible and 15% of students strongly agreed that a Mercer education had made them more morally discerning.

2. The second concerns differences in attitudes between students in their first and senior years.

  The AAC&U study reported that seniors are about half as likely as first-year students to think that their campus promotes contributing to the wider global community (22.9% v. 43.3%).

  At Mercer, we found that seniors are less likely to consider it important to honor the code of conduct than freshman.

Discussion

In relation to our first question, about whether student attitudes change from first to senior years, we do find that they trend in a negative direction. In the AAC&U study, seniors are more likely to say that their campus does not deliver on what it promises. In the Mercer study, seniors put less importance on abiding by the code of conduct. We do not know what to make of this result, although we suspect that the explanation may lie along a continuum of possibilities. At one end of a spectrum, it could be that students become more cynical over time as they learn what rules are enforced consistently. At the other extreme, this finding may reflect that seniors are, in fact, becoming more discerning, more in tune with following the spirit rather than the letter of the rules. It is also possible that this finding simply reflects differences between the population of students who entered in different years, and/or differences in those who remain for four years.

In relation to our second question, we received an interesting and nuanced set of responses about the impact that involvement has on student perceptions/attitudes. We expected students with higher levels of involvement to have more positive perceptions of campus climate and were a bit surprised by two results. We were surprised that those who are student leaders find it less important to follow the code of conduct. Again, we are not sure what to make of this result and recommend further investigation.

 

We are also surprised that community service is the measure of involvement that reveals a statistically significant relationship with student perceptions and attitudes. The more time one spends per week in community service correlates with more positive views of peer pressure as well as a greater sense of becoming more morally discerning. The former finding makes intuitive sense, in that we tend to do community service in groups of peers. However, we would like to know more about why community service in particular contributes to higher levels of moral discernment.

 

Survey results confirmed our expectations that there is a positive relationship between gpa and student attitudes. Students with a B or higher gpa are statistically more likely to see Mercer as a welcoming environment, say that adult leaders send consistent messages, and that their education has made them more socially responsible. Ifgpa can be taken as a indicator of motivation and openness, then our results are consistent with the research that shows that motivated, teachable students develop morally the most.

 

Our fourth question concerned perceptions of disconnects between different dimensions of campus life and we found surprisingly few. As noted above, those surveyed overwhelmingly agreed or strongly agreed that adult and student leaders both model and send consistent messages about what Mercer expects. However, of those who took the time to discuss what Mercer could do better to live up to its professed standards, the highest number (13) suggested enforcing policies more consistently and fairly. This would seem to be one place where there is room for improvement.

 

Our investigation into peer pressure confirmed our expectations for our fifth question. Peer culture does not consistently encourage people to live up to Mercer's expectations for conduct. This is an area where both academic and student life arms of campus could and should work for improvement.

 

Our final question concerned how well students know what is expected of them. We did not specifically ask this question in the survey, but two kinds of responses suggest that we need to do a more effective job of communicating those expectations. Anecdotally, many students asked while completing the survey, "what is the Code of Conduct?" Of those who took the time to discuss what Mercer could do better to live up to its professed standards, ten people said that we could better communicate and promote discussion of those standards.

Conclusion

Overall, we find the moral climate at Mercer to be reasonably healthy. Based on the results of this study, we find three major signs of health. First, there are surprisingly few disjunctions between what people say and do, or at least surprisingly few disjunctions that seem to matter to those who responded to this survey. This speaks well of the kinds of people that Mercer has recruited as students, administration, and faculty.Secondly, students largely perceive that their education has helped them develop a greater sense of personal and social responsibility, as well as facility in moral discernment. Finally, the relationships between community service and both peer pressure and moral discernment is a welcome result given the resources and time Mercer devotes to service-learning.

Although we judge Mercer's moral climate to be good, we also see three areas of concern that warrant further investigation. We judge the most pressing to be students' reports of the negative effect of peer pressure. A second area is the lower levels of commitment to following the code of conduct found among both leaders and seniors. The final concern has to do with closing gaps in such things as enforcing policies and communicating Mercer's expectations.

 

In sum, our survey has confirmed some of our expectations and surprised us regarding others. It also provides us with questions for further investigation. Still we must remember to take these results with the proverbial grain of salt. The survey and its results presented here, however suggestive, at best scratch the surface of Mercer's moral climate. Moreover, our analysis has been done quickly, given the deadline for the second roundtable discussion and so we might have missed or misread some important information. Finally, the most that the survey establishes is that while there are a few significant correlations between the variables we have investigated we cannot assume any causal relationships. Still, the survey gives us information we did not have previously and points us toward some potentially fruitful areas of investigation.

APPENDIX 1:

 

Background Information for Roundtable Discussion

Of Mercer's Moral Climate

22 October 2009

 

 

Mercer's Commitments:

  Mercer University Identity and Goals: Both Mercer's heritage and mission statement commits us to providing "a variety of intellectual, cultural, recreational, and spiritual activities designed to enlarge capacity for improved judgment and moral, ethical, and spiritual growth (2009-2010 Catalog, p. 9)

  Mercer University Quality Enhancement Plan: The QEP promotes collaborative, interdisciplinary opportunities that nurture student moral development so that a Mercer education will result in increased capacity for "perceptive moral judgment, faithful moral commitment, and capacity for integral moral action."

  General Education Outcomes: One of four outcomes for undergraduate general education (regardless of College or School) is that of moral discernment, which "may be interpreted to include judgment in ambiguous situations, academic integrity, ethical reasoning, ethical behavior, and the ability to active upon reflectively-held convictions" (2009-2010 Catalog, p. 96)

 

 

 

From Research on Student Moral Development:[6]

  Moral judgment changes with time and formal education, and it changes … as a developmental progression.

 

  Moral education programs that are designed to stimulate moral judgment and are three to twelve weeks in length do produce modest but significant gains in moral reasoning. This is less true of discipline-oriented, information-laden courses.

 

  For most people, it is not these kinds of programs that foster development so much as becoming more aware of the social world and their place in it. Key factors seem to be that one (1) loves to learn, seeks new challenges, is reflective, sets goals, takes risks, etc. and (2) lives/works in a stimulating and challenging environment that is supportive and rewarding.

 

 

An Initiative of the American Association of Colleges and Universities:

  Personal and social responsibility [PSR] is one of the "essential learning outcomes for the twenty-first century."[7]

  PSR encompasses the following "key dimensions:" (1) striving for excellence, (2) cultivating personal and academic integrity, (3) contributing to a larger community, (4) taking seriously the perspective of others, and (5) developing competence in ethical and moral reasoning and action.[8]

  A survey of 24,000 undergraduate students and 9,000 campus professionals (faculty, student affairs, and administrators) at 23 institutions found: (1) a significant majority of both students and professionals strongly agree that while educating for PSR should be a part of one's education, it is not a major focus of their institution, (2) students are far more skeptical that their institution is educating for PSR in their senior year than they were in their first year, (3) only 25% of students report that they take advantage of opportunities intended to promote PSR, and (4) only 33% of students strongly agree that college has increased their skills and commitments to contributing to the community.[9]

An Observation about Social Systems:[10]

   "An unchristian social order can be known by the fact that it makes good men do bad things. It tempts, defeats, drains, and degrades, and leaves men stunted, cowed, and shamed… A Christian social order makes bad men do good things. It sets high aims, steadies the vagrant impulses of the weak, trains the powers of the young, and is felt by all as an uplifting force which leaves them with the consciousness of a broader and nobler humanity…"

APPENDIX 2:               STUDENT SURVEY                     Spring 2010

For its service project this semester, Dr. Lewis' Honors Service Learning Course is conducting a survey to ascertain Mercer's "moral climate." It is inspired, in part, by research that suggests that a student's moral development is influenced most institutional "climate."

Please take a few moments to answer the following questions—and feel free to help yourself to some candy, which is our way of saying, "Thank you for taking the time to help us out."

Note: ALL RESPONSES WILL BE KEPT ANONYMOUS

1. Are you a member of a fraternity or sorority?    Y  N

2. Are you a varsity athlete          Y  N

3. In how many campus organizations do you hold some kind of leadership position (e.g., officer)?  _____

4. How many hours per week do you typically spend in community service?        _____

5. How many hours per week do you typically spend in extracurricular activities (such as clubs, intramurals, SGA, or religious organizations)?  _____

For the questions 6-15, please circle your response and feel free to offer any additional explanation in the space provided.

6. Mercer promotes a welcoming and accepting environment.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

7. Student leaders (e.g., RAs) do an effective job of modeling the kind of character/conduct Mercer expects of students.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

8. Adult leaders (e.g., administrators, faculty members, student affairs personnel) do an effective job of modeling the kind of character/conduct Mercer expects of students.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

 

9. Adult leaders (e.g., administrators, faculty members, student affairs personnel) send consistent messages about what kind of character/conduct Mercer expects of students.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

10. Peer Pressure encourages me to live up to the character/conduct Mercer expects of students.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

11. My college education has helped me become a more morally discerning person.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

12. It is important to me to honor Mercer's code of conduct.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

13. I aspire to live a moral life.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

14. Mercer has helped me become more personally responsible.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

15. Mercer has helped me become more socially responsible.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

16. Have you ever been charged with an Honor Code violation?      Y  N

17. Have you ever been charged with a violation of the Code of Conduct?  Y  N

18. Have you ever violated Mercer's Honor Code?        Y  N

19. Have you ever violated Mercer's Code of Conduct?        Y  N

20. Where is Mercer most effective at holding students accountable to its rules and regulations (check 1)?

_____Honor Code    _____  Code of Conduct  _____  Housing policies

_____ Other (explain):_______________________________________________________________

 

21. What is your gender?    M  F

22. What is your year in school?  F  So  Jr  Sr  5

23. Do you live on campus?    Y  N

24. What school are you in?     CLA  Engineering  Business  Education  Music

25. Are you a transfer student?    Y  N   (If yes, did you transfer as  F   So   Jr   Sr

26. What is your gpa?      _____

27. What could Mercer do better to live up to its professed standards?

 

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX 3 SURVEY RESULTS

(top number = %, bottom number = number of responses)

28. Mercer promotes a welcoming and accepting environment.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

1.68            3.36      6.30      61.76      26.89

4               8         15         147         64

29. Student leaders (e.g., RAs) do an effective job of modeling the kind of character/conduct Mercer expects of students.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree      N/A

0               6.72      17.65      60.08      14.70            .84

      0               16         42         143         35               2

30. Adult leaders (e.g., administrators, faculty members, student affairs personnel) do an effective job of modeling the kind of character/conduct Mercer expects of students.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree      N/A

      0               2.94      11.67      61.34      23.53            .42

0               7         28         146      56               1

 

31. Adult leaders (e.g., administrators, faculty members, student affairs personnel) send consistent messages about what kind of character/conduct Mercer expects of students.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree      N/A

1.68            8.82      16.39      54.62      18.07            .42

      4               21         39         130         43               1

      

32. Peer Pressure encourages me to live up to the character/conduct Mercer expects of students.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree

7.98            32.77      22.27      31.09      5.88

19               78         53         74         14

33. My college education has helped me become a more morally discerning person.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree      N/A

4.64            13.08      16.88      49.79      14.77            .84

11               31         40         118         35               2

34. It is important to me to honor Mercer's code of conduct.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree      N/A

2.95            3.38      9.70      50.63      31.22            2.10

      7               8         23         120         74               5

35. I aspire to live a moral life.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree      N/A

      .42               .42         2.10      40.34      55.88            .84

1               1         5         96         133            2

36. Mercer has helped me become more personally responsible.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree      N/A

   2.52               7.14      11.34      53.36      24.37            1.26

   6               17         27         127      58               3

37. Mercer has helped me become more socially responsible.

strongly disagree   disagree   unsure      agree      strongly agree      N/A

2.94            7.98      13.03      49.16      25.63            1.26

7               19         31         117         61               3

38. Have you ever been charged with an Honor Code violation?

Y3.36         N96.22      N/A.84

   8         229         2

39. Have you ever been charged with a violation of the Code of Conduct?

Y9.66        N89.50  N/A.84

 23        213       2

 

40. Have you ever violated Mercer's Honor Code?

Y6.30    N92.86    N/A.84

 15      221            2

 

41. Have you ever violated Mercer's Code of Conduct?    

Y18.91      N80.25      N/A.84

 45       191         2

 

42. Where is Mercer most effective at holding students accountable to its rules and regulations (check 1)?

Honor Code      Code of Conduct      Housing Policies      Other: (parking)

52.28        15.35          22.41          .83

126        37            54            2

DEMOGRAPHICS:

 


N =      % =

Gender:

M:       94      39.83

F:         141      59.75

Trans:      1      0.42

Year in School:

Fr         71      30.08   

So         83      35.17   

Jr         33      13.98   

Sr         43      18.22   

5         6       2.54

School:

CLA      150      63.56   

EGR      28      11.86         

BUS      32      13.56   

EDU      16      6.78   

MUS      8      3.39   

Other      2      0.85 (enrolled in 2 schools)

Transfer:

Yes         20      8.47   

No         216      91.53   

Live on campus:

Yes         205      86.87

   


No          30      12.7

GPA:

3.8      42      13.65

3.5-3.7      61      25.64

3.0-3.4      84      35.29

2.5-2.9      26      10.92

2.0-2.4      8      3.36

1.0-1.9      4      1.68

Below      1.0      0   0

NA         13      5.46


 

INVOLVEMENT

 


Greek

Y         98      41.18

N         140   58.82

Athlete

Y         17      7.14

N         140   92.86

Leadership Roles

0         98      41.70

1         61      25.96

2         50      21.28

3         24      10.21

NA         2      .85

Hrs Comm Svc

0         89      37.87

1-3         100   42.53

4-6         23      9.79

7-9         3      1.28

10      8      3.40

NA         12      5.11

Extracurric Activites

0         14      5.88

1-3         61      2.56

4-6         94      39.5

7-9         12      5.04

10      49      20.59

NA         8      3.36


 

 

OPEN RESPONSES

 

Res Life/Housing/all policies should be enforced fairly. All students know what they can get away

with and not get caught. Especially alcohol. (13)

Better communication/put everything in Lair/better explain to freshman/better define codes/discuss

codes (10)

Better staff /lead by example/live up to standards (7)

Keep it up/good job (6)

Be more accepting of ALL organizations on campus. Be proud of its diversity. (5)

Present more examples of moral excellence/highlight/award those students & faculty that live up to

and exemplify those moral characteristics. (4)

Decrease restrictions (3)

Ethics classes (3)

Promote open, ethical environment (3)

Be realistic concerning alcohol. (2)

Relax its rules/give people more freedom (2)

More professor presence at social clubs (Amnesty International, STOP, FMLA, etc.)

Stop the extreme classism.

Ido not know how MU could affect peer pressure, but the majority of students tend to the immoral

side (underage drinking, swearing, sex, low academic standards), and try to influence others to do

the same.

Focus on overarching goals

Expel psychos

Ask students

Adopt responsible environmental standards with programs and building codes

Become more involved in diverse activities

Stop being so concerned with comfort

make information about academic opportunities more available and easily accessible

more involvement from other organizations besides Greek in campus wide events, such as homecoming

Not exactly sure, but stand up for all Baptist beliefs strongly!

 



[1]This report was prepared by Kim Campbell, Daniel O'Neal, and Lauren Whatley under the direction of Paul Lewis with expert assistance from Tanya Sharon.

 

[2]For more information on the project, see www2.mercer.edu/phronesis.

[3]For a report, seehttp://www2.mercer.edu/phronesis/resources/Roundtable Discussions.htm.Citations for this research can be found in Appendix 1 of this document.

[4]The actual numbers of responses and percentages can be found in Appendix 3.

[5]Attitudes were measured on a five-point scale, where 1 indicated strong disagreement and 5 indicated strong agreement.

[6]James Rest, et al,Moral Development: Advances in Research and Theory(New York: Praeger, 1986), 176-179. See also his "Research on Moral Judgment in College Students," inApproaches to Moral Development: New Research and Emerging Themes, ed. by Andrew Garrod (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993), 201-227.

[7]Eric Dey, et al,Civic Responsibility: What is the Campus Climate for Learning? (Washington, DC: AAC&U, 2009), 21.

[8]ibid, 1.

 

[9]ibid, 19

[10]Walter Rauschenbusch,Christianizing the Social Order(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1915), 127.