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Campus Culture, Shared Governance, Morale and Wellness


Within the last decade, SDSU has sought to create a healthy and welcoming campus community. Students, employees, and constituents contribute to SDSU’s positive momentum through engagement and evaluation. The administration has used a variety of surveys evaluating the campus climate and assessing university as a workplace. They have sought to enhance university governance practices/structure and promote wellness in all its dimensions. SDSU continues to strive toward greater health—inclusivity, employee engagement and enhanced morale which includes equal voices in governance, increased professional development opportunities, and enhanced opportunities for upward mobility within positions for employees in all classifications. A continued effort toward assessment, evaluation, and action will strengthen SDSU and enhance its ability to carry out the mission of teaching, research, and service for years to come. 

Lessons learned 


 In the SPC Theme Sessions Data there was strong support not just for shared governance but a revision in the governance structure to more adequately reflect the composition of the university. A common response was that time is not allotted for the participation in university activities, programs, or committees so participation is not viewed as being rewarded. This has led to inequitable workloads and a mismatch in expectations and accountability. Additionally, employees do not feel as if the review/evaluation process from their supervisor is meaningful, not only in helping them improve but that supervisor feedback provided during reviews have no impact on anything going forward. Employees indicated they feel as if they have a positive work life balance. However, there were some that would like to increase the flexibility within their position and remove inefficiencies presented within their workload. This has been compounded with a lack of communication filtering down to all levels that has left some units with the impression that they are not involved with developing processes. 

Successes in this theme area are the opening of the student health clinic, the introduction of online tutoring for students enrolled in online classes, the finance department’s implementation of Finance Users Networking Discussions, and the creation of the professional staff advisory council. These success stories share common themes. The first being that soliciting input from all stakeholders directly involved led to a robust and functional solution. This, in turn, leads to more individuals feeling involved and subsequently morale is improved. The second lesson is the importance of feedback. Knowing that one's voice was heard increases future participation. This means providing clear and direct communication such as providing a structured means for individuals to communicate safely and efficiently. 

Data from the Great Colleges to Work For 2015 SDSU report was pulled in order to get an even more comprehensive look at this topic. Overall 60.8% of SDSU faculty and staff agree or strongly agree that SDSU is a great college to work for. That implies that there are 39.3% who are either ambivalent or disagree with that statement. There appears to be a strong differentiation between various classifications within the university. As noted earlier, there is a perception that information is not clearly and effectively disseminated across campus, and this is amplified the further groups are from direct interactions with central administration. 

Also indicated in this survey was a sense of dissatisfaction with the accuracy and efficacy of job performance metrics. The other primary issues identified in this survey were pay and recognition. Only 45% of respondents believe they are being paid fairly for their work and only 40% of respondents believe that the current recognition and awards programs are meaningful. All things considered, as a question, only 16.4% of respondents disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that SDSU is a great place to work; a majority of those coming from faculty (26.1%) and exempt professional staff (11%). 

National trends and external picture 

Institutions across the United States are grappling with issues related to campus morale, climate, and culture. For example, the University of Kansas reported that 65% of faculty and 55% of staff seriously considered leaving the university in the past year. Concerns about salary, lack of support, increased workload, and the state government's increasing role were all noted. North Dakota State University reported that 65% of responding faculty had considered leaving the institution, based on their work environment and nearly half of those respondents had applied for other positions. A 2015 Insider Higher Ed survey conducted by Gallup indicated that only 34% of faculty surveyed nationwide are engaged in their jobs. Engagement was defined as being involved in and enthusiastic about their work. While those who aren't engaged, may still be productive, research indicates that engaged employees are more productive, less likely to be absent, and experience fewer sick days. Also of concern are those 14% of faculty who are actively disengaged. 

Strategic themes 

This particular theme based paper covers campus culture, health, wellness and shared governance. It is important that the reader is familiar with the following definitions moving forward: 

  • Wellness: Wellness is much more than physical health, exercise or nutrition. It is the full integration of states of physical, mental, spiritual, interpersonal, and even financial well-being. Optimal wellness allows us to achieve our goals and find meaning and purpose in our lives. Wellness involves continually learning and making changes to enhance your state of well-being. The model used by the SDSU Wellness Center includes seven dimensions: social, physical, spiritual, financial, emotional, environmental, and intellectual. 
  • Health: According to the World Health Organization, health is defined as a state of compete, physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity. 

  • Morale: Webster's Dictionary defines morale as the mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand. Morale is a sense of common purpose with respect to a group. 

  • Shared Governance: This is a governance model where faculty, professional staff and civil service employees can have input into the planning and decision-making processes of the institution. At SDSU shared governance is structured through Faculty Senate, Professional Staff Advisory Council, Civil Service Advisory Council, and university committees. 

Because we are making recommendations to increase both university and personal health and wellness, the following definitions are offered .

  • University: is defined as the entire SDSU and its employees as a whole. 

  • Personal: is defined as one individual who is employed at SDSU. 


We have pulled together a flow chart of campus culture and health to illustrate the complexity of this topic area. 

As a strategic planning committee subcommittee we have recommendations moving forward in regard to shared governance and communication on the university level. We also have recommendations in regard to work environments, morale, and professional development on the personal level. 

University level. In regard to shared governance, more consideration should be given for professional staff and civil service employees to serve on university committees and councils. We are concerned that some staff may be discouraged from participating, due to the nature of their positions. As the university committee system currently stands, professional staff and civil service members cannot serve as chair or vice chair of committees. We recommend review of this policy. As a result of the shared governance model at SDSU, there has been an increase of service for faculty that needs to be addressed in the workload document. 

In regard to camps-wide communication, data from surveys such as the Wellness Survey and Campus Climate Survey need to be disseminated university-wide. Additionally, the data should have actions planned that correspond with the survey results. Simply administering a survey for data does not make impactful change across the campus. Improvement in openness of communication also needs to occur. There needs to be better planning of openness communication, and more transparency with important information. All employees of all levels need to be trusted with information relevant to them. This is a bidirectional relationship. Not only do employees need to trust the information being given to them, but the administration needs to trust employees to digest information relevant to them. 

Personal level. At the personal level three areas were identified for focus and improvement. These were morale, work environment, and personal well-being Within each, areas of improvement were identified. The primary factor within improving morale was providing support for employees. This includes improving the flexibility within schedules when time allows for activities such as taking care of children or going to the gym. It also includes providing challenges that present growth opportunities as well as a clear path for advancement and recognition. The second area is work environment. There needs to be a tangible way for all unit levels to feel valued For example, incorporating all levels within units in communication strategies rather than a reliance on trickle down communication. Also, there is a need for equity of opportunity in professional development as well as an increased value being placed on the participation and completion of professional development activities. The final area that can be addressed is personal well-being; within this category there needs to be programs and a campus environment that support the physical, mental, and interpersonal (between units, across units, and across campus) well-being of individuals. 

Projected costs 

A growing body of research indicates that employees and students who regularly participate in healthy wellness related behaviors: (a) are more engaged, productive, and satisfied, (b) perform at higher levels, including academically, (c) miss less work and (d) are at a lower risk for the development of chronic health disorder, which accounts for more than 75% of U.S. health care spending. A significant percentage of employee faculty think that it is important for SDSU to promote campus culture, morale and wellness for employees. Our campus culture, morale and wellness strategic plan is based on the best evidence from rigorous research that indicates a multidimensional intervention strategy is necessary for best health and wellness outcomes. Wellness initiatives must not 

only be focused on assisting individuals with healthy lifestyle behavior change through wellness programming and benefit design, but also must include building a wellness culture and environment that make healthy choices the easy choices for individuals to make. Therefore, our strategic plan includes implementation of interventions directed at the individual, social and family network, workplace, environmental and policy levels which may be associated with additional spending in dollars. However, the investment of campus wellness initiatives and programs improve morale, job satisfaction, and help make SDSU the employer of choice. 

Short- and long-term plans 

We have brainstormed action steps for moving forward with building a culture of wellness at SDSU based on the information presented above. They are organized into short-term and long-term goals. 

Short-term plans 

  • Present data on campus culture, morale, and employee wellness to unit leaders or supervisors and administrators with evidence-based strategies to build better wellness cultures and environments. 

  • Present data to senior leadership—president, provost and vice presidents, council of deans, faculty senate, staff advisory council—through the annual state of health and wellness presentations to leader groups. 

  • Improve and implement policies that that will make substantial improvements in current campus culture, wellness, and employee morale. 

  • Provide an incentive to leaders and supervisors/administrators to enhance college/unit culture and environment. Recognize leaders and supervisors for providing a supportive wellness culture. 

Long-term plans 

  • Provide new employee wellness innovator program orientation two to three times per year. Engage employee wellness innovators in active wellness programming. Engage leaders and supervisors in implementing and supporting the policy. 

  • Engage in evidence-based practices and continuous quality improvement to facilitate sustained healthy lifestyle behaviors to ultimately reduce the burden of an unhealthy environment while providing measurable outcomes and demonstrating value. 

  • Communicate simply, moving toward a goal of having an effective voice for all employee and student wellness. Plan to promote local, statewide, and national wellness through the sharing of best practices to impact change and employees’ health outcomes. 

  • Provide a built environment on campus with corresponding policies that support participation in physical activity, nutritious food choices, and healthy behaviors.