Climate Surveys

In an effort to monitor the extent of campus sexual assault, some colleges have begun to implement “climate surveys” of students. The survey developers typically avoid using the words “rape” and “assault.” Instead, they ask if the students experienced any types of sexual contact, and if these contacts were unwanted.

The problem with the term “unwanted” is that a student may have had some type of sexual contact that was fully consensual, with the hope of establishing a long-term social relationship. But if the relationship does not work out, the student may later come to view the incident as “unwanted.”

A good example of this problem is the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, conducted by the Association of American Universities (AAU). The survey’s main conclusion was that 23.1% of female undergraduates experience sexual assault or sexual misconduct. But the survey had serious problems:

  • Nineteen percent response rate, which means the respondents were not representative of the overall student population
  • Failure to adequately define “incapacitation” or to distinguish it from “intoxication” (Intoxication, also called drunkenness, is similar to a state’s drunk driving limit. Incapacity is a higher level of alcohol consumption in which the person cannot appreciate the nature of the situation.)
  • Nearly 60 percent of students who said they were victims of “sexual assault” said they did not report the incident because they did not consider it serious enough
  • A nine-fold discrepancy between the number of incidents that students claimed they reported to university officials, compared to the number reported to the federal government under the Clery Act


Given these flaws, it is not surprising that the AAU survey attracted strong editorial criticism:


SAVE identified another fundamental flaw with the AAU report. The survey defined “sexual misconduct” as:

  1. Physical force or threat of physical force
  2. Being incapacitated because of drugs, alcohol or being unconscious, asleep or passed out
  3. Coercive threats of non-physical harm or promised rewards, or
  4. Failure to obtain affirmative consent, which the survey defined as “active, ongoing voluntary agreement”

But affirmative consent is a controversial, possibly unconstitutional concept. And many universities with such policies implemented them in the Summer or Fall of 2015, after the AAU survey was fielded. An internet search of the terms “affirmative consent,” “student handbook,” and name of each university reveals that at the time the AAU survey was conducted in Spring 2015:

  • No affirmative consent policy was in place when survey was conducted: 15 colleges
  • Affirmative consent policy is currently in place, but date of implementation unknown: 9 colleges
  • Affirmative consent policy was known to be in place when AAU survey was conducted: 3 colleges

The AAU report makes the claim that 11.4% of undergraduate females were “victimized” by the absence of affirmative consent (page xii). But for at least 15 out of the 27 colleges — and possibly as many as 24 out of 27 colleges — no affirmative consent policy was in place. Therefore, absence of affirmative consent cannot be considered to represent sexual misconduct at these institutions, and the 23.1% female victimization figure is substantially over-stated.

See SAVE press release HERE. A listing of the 27 colleges, categorized by the status of their affirmative consent policies, is shown below:

College Comments Link
1 Brown University
2 Case Western Reserve University
3 Cornell University Affirmative consent policy was not implemented until September 2015
4 Dartmouth College
5 Harvard University’t-university-adopt-affirmative-consent-standard;
6 Michigan State University
7 Ohio State University
8 Texas A&M University
9 University of Arizona
10 University of Michigan
11 University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Affirmative consent policy was implemented after AAU survey was conducted
12 University of Missouri-Columbia
13 University of Pennsylvania
14 University of Texas at Austin
15 Washington University, St. Louis
University policy explicitly refers to “affirmative consent:”
16 Columbia University
17 Iowa State University
18 University of Virginia
University policy does not explicitly refer to affirmative consent, but is implicit in definition of sexual consent:
19 Purdue University Policy requires “affirmative communication”
20 University of Florida “Affirmative consent” not found, but generally consistent with the AAU definition
21 University of Oregon Policy requires “explicit consent”
22 University of Pittsburgh “Affirmative consent” not found, but generally consistent with the AAU definition
23 University of Wisconsin-Madison Policy requires a clear ‘yes,’ not just the absence of ‘no’
24 Yale University Policy requires a clear ‘yes,’ not just the absence of ‘no’
25 California Institute of Technology Law in California
26 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Policy was implemented in October 2014;
27 University of Southern California Law in California