Survey: Nearly 20% of COC employees feel unwelcomed at college; concerns over retaliation, safety, inclusivity 


A recent survey of College of the Canyons employees saw 81% of respondents say they feel welcomed at the college. 

That’s the good news. 

The bad news? That leaves the other 19% of the 563 people who answered the question either not sure if they feel welcomed or outright disagreeing with that statement. Some of those concerns were expanded upon through open-ended questions in the climate survey, conducted by The RP Group earlier this year. 

Eric Harnish, spokesman for the college, said that “concerns brought up in the survey will be given a careful and thorough evaluation with the aim of making improvements.” 

“We appreciate people taking the time to participate and provide thoughtful feedback on the survey,” Harnish said on behalf of the college. “What resonates is that the people who work here really care about this college and they are really committed to strengthening the college.” 

According to The RP Group’s summary report of the survey, there were several key findings. One of those is that “in general, the feeling of workplace belonging was high among employees, but experiences varied at the department and college levels when it came to feeling heard and fearing retaliation for speaking up.” 

A handful of respondents said they were either told by other employees that retaliation for speaking up should be expected, or they had personally seen or been the recipients of backlash.  

Another finding demonstrated how employees said they are concerned that student well-being is being prioritized over employee well-being, as well as recruitment and retention. 

Multiple respondents said they have seen full-time employees leave the college without a replacement being hired, leaving the work for that position being handed to someone else, without adding on any salary or removing other workloads. 

Other findings included: concerns over safety, especially at night; a trend of psychological harm; and diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility being offered, along with other inclusion efforts, but employees not having the time or work-life balance to participate. 

The college’s task now, Harnish said, is to further review the claims made in the survey to see if these are isolated claims or if there is a pattern that needs to be looked at further. He said it will likely take multiple months to get that additional feedback, especially with many employees now off for the summer, before the college can dive deeper into the changes that may need to occur. 

The survey results were anonymous and any responses that contained personal or identifying information had that information redacted by The RP Group. There was also a list of recommendations that The RP Group included in its summary report. 

A total of 52 fixed-choice questions were asked along with 12 open-ended questions. The college saw 625 employees respond to the survey, representing 58% of the employee population. 

Fear of retaliation 

According to one respondent, “three colleagues have told me not to fill out this survey because they didn’t trust the responses would be confidential and they feared retaliations from [Executive Leadership]. 

“I have seen multiple co-workers leave or be fired if they do not say ‘Yes’ to everything [Executive Leadership] wants,” the respondent wrote. “Please help us.” 

The RP Group’s summary report stated on multiple occasions that the survey was anonymous, a point that Harnish reiterated on Tuesday, saying nobody at the college had access to anything but what The RP Group gave out to all employees. 

Another respondent wrote: “The executive leadership team is a mixed bag of leaders. The college is being run badly because these people need to constantly worry about how [Executive Leadership] will react to every aspect of decision making.” 

Harnish said the college needs to gain a better understanding of what “retaliation” entails and if these concerns are simply concerns or if there are actual consequences being handed down by supervisors. 

The RP Group recommended the following “to create a more psychologically safe environment”: 

  • Implement workshops on psychological safety principles for all institutional leaders to equip them to create safe spaces for open communication and constructive feedback. 
  • Develop clear guidelines and communication processes for addressing employee concerns to assure employees that their voices will be heard and acted upon without fear of retaliation. 
  • Conduct anonymous surveys to gather more specific information about when and where employees do not feel safe to share their opinions. Use the data from these surveys to identify and address specific concerns. 
  • Empower leaders to actively listen to employee concerns and demonstrate empathy. Leverage the existing trust in constituency groups and department leads by involving them in communication and engagement initiatives. 
  • Celebrate instances in which employees speak up with new ideas or concerns to reinforce the value of open communication. 

Employee well-being 

Respondents stated that initiatives are being handed down and “goals or benchmarks” being put ahead of the well-being of the employees. 

“The truth is, I have been here for over [10 years] years and I have worked harder and harder and harder each year,” one respondent wrote. “The expectations have grown, I have continued to rise to meet them, and yet there is always more work to be done, more to be put on our plate, and more to expect of us. All while feeling that I’m being micromanaged and distrusted like an unreliable teenager.” 

While some responses focused on psychological harm, others were concerned about their physical safety. Specifically, some employees noted poor lighting, bad cell phone service and a lack of campus security. 

College officials made a presentation at a recent meeting of the board of trustees of the Santa Clarita Community College District, which oversees COC, to discuss the safety department. At the time, the department had 17 employees, including 13 safety officers, with another four positions in recruitment. 

Harnish said adding lights to brighten some of the darker areas of both the Valencia and Canyon Country campuses would be one of the tangible changes that the college can easily make, though he did not have immediate details on what those changes would be. 

The RP Group recommends that the college do the following: 

  • Offer flexible work options to help employees improve their work-life balance, allowing employees to dedicate more time to engagement activities if they choose. 
  • Recognize and reward employees who actively participate and contribute to the college community. 
  • Be transparent about challenges by addressing issues openly to demonstrate trust and prevent rumors. 


In December 2022, the college was awarded the Institutional Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Champion Award from the Association of Human Resource Officers/Equal Employment Officers. 

However, some employees say that there simply is not enough time in their schedules to make time to participate in some of the offerings. One respondent stated they were told they could participate, but it had to be outside of work hours. 

There were also concerns expressed over professional development meetings all being scheduled on Fridays. Employees stated that they either didn’t have time to attend all of the meetings or the meetings did not cover things that they felt would be beneficial to them. 

Harnish said the college will be canvassing employees to see how the professional development structure can be shifted to better serve the employees. 

For DEIA, Harnish said the college has the goal of giving every employee the opportunity to participate, and choosing to do so is up to each employee. 

The RP Group recommends that the college do the following: 

  • Dedicate consistent professional development funding for all employees to encourage employees’ participation in activities that contribute to their professional growth. 
  • Develop employee-centric scheduling of professional development, campus events, and committee meetings to encourage equitable participation. 
  • Conduct surveys and/or focus groups to align employee engagement initiatives with employee interests by understanding employees’ preferred engagement activities. 
  • Create opportunities for employees to connect across departments and teams to help foster a greater sense of community and belonging. 
  • Empower employees to lead or participate in committees and task forces to give them a sense of ownership and agency. 

While this is the first climate survey at COC administered by a consulting group in recent years — and both college leaders and employees were adamant that The RP Group release all of the data so that concerns could be addressed — Harnish said it is likely that the college will look to have one conducted again in the future. 

“This is a tool that allows us to help guide our efforts,” he said. 

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