• September 2, 2014

U. of Virginia President Meets With Governor to Push for Access to Law-Enforcement Records

A Call for Access to Students' Arrest Records 1

Steve Helber, AP Images

John Casteen III, president of the U. of Virginia, says that if the institution had known about the earlier arrest of a student now accused of murder, it "would have lit our system up."

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close A Call for Access to Students' Arrest Records 1

Steve Helber, AP Images

John Casteen III, president of the U. of Virginia, says that if the institution had known about the earlier arrest of a student now accused of murder, it "would have lit our system up."

How information from state law-enforcement agencies can make college campuses safer dominated the discussion at a meeting on Tuesday between John T. Casteen III, president of the University of Virginia, and the state's governor, Robert F. McDonnell.

The death last week of Yeardley Love, a student, and the arrest on murder charges of George Huguely V, a fellow student, followed by news reports of Mr. Huguely's prior arrest, had prompted Mr. Casteen to announce that the university would begin regularly screening all students against a state law-enforcement database, as well as to push for notifications of any student's arrest.

Mr. Casteen told reporters on Tuesday that information about Mr. Huguely's arrest in 2008 for assaulting a police officer in Lexington, Va., 70 miles from the campus, might have led to his suspension or expulsion if the university had known about it.

"Information of that kind would have lit our system up,'' Mr. Casteen said, according to The Washington Post.

The university's existing policies require students to disclose any encounters with the police, but Mr. Huguely apparently did not report his earlier arrest.

Now UVa wants more reliable access to such information. In Tuesday's meeting, Mr. Casteen and Governor McDonnell, a Republican, focused on "practical and logistical challenges" to obtaining it, Carol Wood, a spokeswoman for the university, said in a written statement.

"They agreed that what has been proposed will not be easy to accomplish and discussed the concerns that have been voiced in the law-enforcement community," Ms. Wood said.

Meanwhile, the state's attorney general, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, promised colleges expanded access to law-enforcement data. "We want to get them what information and tools we can," he said on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, a radio program broadcast from Washington. "You can expect to see some legal changes, changes to our statutes, as a result of this tragedy."

Challenges to Accuracy

Colleges commonly collaborate with law-enforcement agencies whose jurisdictions border their own, but partnerships for information sharing across states or regions are rare. And police officers do not routinely verify whether a person they have arrested is a student.

The answer to that question, like UVa's policy, relies on self-disclosure.

"People lie about being arrested," said Dolores Stafford, a campus-security consultant and a former police chief at George Washington University. "Why wouldn't they lie about being a student?"

Obtaining accurate, consistent information will not be easy, Governor McDonnell told reporters on Tuesday. "I think we have some challenges on how to do that,'' he said, according to the Post.

Mr. Casteen has also proposed conducting criminal background checks each semester on all 21,000 students at UVa.

A few institutions run checks on all students, typically at the point of admission, and some especially scrutinize athletes. Vastly more common are criminal checks of students in health- and education-related programs whose practical training involves contact with vulnerable populations. In many cases, clinical accreditation and state law require such checks.

Proposals to conduct regular background checks on all students, however, raise questions about cost, labor, and the reliability of information. Studies have shown that background checks of known convicts turn up hits on only half to three-quarters of them. And in many states, juvenile records are sealed and do not turn up on such checks.

The usefulness of checks depends not only on the quality of the information obtained but what administrators do with it. Do they impose disciplinary sanctions? In which cases? Some students with prior arrests will cause no further problems. Others without records may commit violent crimes.

"To do everything possible to try to prevent another tragedy of this type is certainly an excellent and an admirable intention," said Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education. But student background checks are not a perfect solution, she said. "There's no guarantee."

'Good Judgment'

Colleges that now conduct background checks grapple with the information they generate.

The University of North Carolina has been investigating some students' criminal backgrounds since 2007, under a policy introduced three years after a student and another recently expelled student at the system's Wilmington campus were accused separately of killing students.

Applications for admission now ask six questions on matters such as criminal charges, pleas, and convictions; school probations, suspensions, and expulsions; and dishonorable military discharges. Any "yes" answers or gaps in personal time lines may prompt the university to conduct a criminal-background check, said Patricia L. Leonard, vice chancellor for student affairs at Wilmington. The university will ask the applicant to pay $20 for the check, conducted by a company called Certiphi, which delivers its report to the campus.

Administrators at Wilmington meet weekly during admissions season to make determinations on several students at a time, Ms. Leonard said. They consider whether applicants pose a risk to themselves or others, or if their offenses involve alcohol, drugs, or a lack of integrity. If so, the university will most likely deny them admission.

One or two alarming incidents or a pattern of smaller violations may persuade Wilmington to reject a student, Ms. Leonard said. Sometimes the dean of students will interview a borderline applicant in person or by phone.

"A lot of it is common sense and good judgment," Ms. Leonard said. "Is this the kind of student you want on your campus?" Wilmington also runs background checks two or three times a year on students involved in serious physical altercations.

Conducting criminal background checks on students may leave colleges legally vulnerable. While in some cases ordering the checks may provide a defense to allegations of negligence, assuming that responsibility would hold a college to performing it well. An institution, for example, might not uncover the arrest of a student who goes on to commit a violent crime.

"You do open up obviously the potential for liability," said Steve Milam, an education lawyer in Seattle and affiliate assistant professor of bioethics and humanities at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "It's going to come down to how diligent you were in conducting the search."

Legal decisions may also depend on colleges' policies for handling criminal records they gather. Do their policies list specific crimes that automatically result in a student's denial of admission or expulsion? Administrators may consider the facts of each case, but inconsistency could expose them to lawsuits. Also, some states prohibit discrimination on the basis of criminal convictions.

Growing Practice

A new survey on student background checks should shed more light on colleges' practices. A report on the survey is set to be released in the next few weeks by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and the Center for Community Alternatives, an advocacy group for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

Barmak Nassirian, an associate executive director of the registrars' group, spoke in general terms on Tuesday about the survey's findings. He said he was surprised to find that the majority of four-year institutions asked for applicants' criminal histories. He worries that colleges are developing a no-enroll list, equivalent to the federal government's no-fly list, with troubling implications for high-school students from low-income families and minority groups.

The arrests of low-income, minority students more often result in convictions than do those of wealthy, suburban students with lawyers, Mr. Nassirian said. And he is concerned that, in decisions about admission or disciplinary action, colleges seem to be asking, Why take a risk?

"This information is by nature prejudicial," Mr. Nassirian said. "Do we really want to create an unforgiving society?"

Nevertheless, student background checks may be becoming a trend.

"My sense is that more schools are considering doing something beyond self-disclosure," said Darby Dickerson, dean of Stetson University's College of Law, which runs an annual higher-education legal conference. Her research suggests that increasingly, colleges will conduct background checks on any student who wants to live in a residence hall.

"As more schools put different types of processes in place to check criminal backgrounds," Ms. Dickerson said, "it will be more difficult for others to turn a blind eye."

Comments

1. nuffsed - May 12, 2010 at 08:22 am

As one who is both concerned about campus safety and personal liberty I hope these institutions will weigh these issues carefully and develop policies that will try to protect both. People who have violent tendencies need to be kept in check, but I would hate to think that we would become a society where a criminal past would become an insurmountable obstacle to getting an education and leaving that past behind for good.

2. rick1952 - May 12, 2010 at 08:34 am

This story provides more than enough information to make clear that criminal background checks are unreliable and do not provide actionable information in many instances.

I think Mr. Nassirian raises an important question in this matter: "Do we want to create an unforgiving society?"

The tragedy of the murder of Yeardley Love by George Huguely is not rooted in the criminal history of Mr. Huguely. Rather, I suspect it reflects significant anger management problems that Mr. Huguely demonstrated over many years but which were ignored or excused by those who witnessed or experienced them. (And, it is not just student athletes who demonstrate this behavioral problem.)

I wish President Casteen acted more like an educator than a politician and sought out advice from those professional mental health organizations whose knowledge of and work with issues of anger management might assist the University in developing more effective programs to help students deal with their anger, frustration and their sense of entitlement. I wish he would publicly commit adequate resources to acting on the professional advice based on professional work already done by many mental health professionals to help address this problem on his campus.

It would be equally helpful to assist others (victims and witnesses) in understanding how best to respond to individuals with such issues, including getting out of such relationships or not getting into them in the first place. I doubt Mr. Huguely's murderous attack on Ms. Love was his first abuse of her, and perhaps she was trying to extricate herself from an abusive relationship when he killed her. I wonder if she knew about support she could have, not just from law enforcement but from others who work with victims of relationship violence?

My point is that law enforcement responses to social problems are generally inadequate and often counter-productive. As a teenager growing up in NYC during the late 1960's and early 1970's, I witnessed the scourge of heroin addiction afflict my community, resulting in the premature deaths of too many of my peers. The best response NYS came up with was the Rockefeller laws which criminalized behavior that required clinical intervention and better education. End result - continued heroin addiction coupled with massive numbers of Blacks and Puerto Ricans incarcerated in state prisons. Only in recent years has NYS formally acknowledged the inadequacy of the criminal justice focused response. I hope we do not have to wait 40+ years for higher education to figure out that a criminal justice focused response to the serious social/emotional problem of relationship violence will prove inadequate to the task if we don't also increase our efforts on the mental health and education arenas as well.

3. 22248830 - May 12, 2010 at 08:57 am

It seems reasonable to believe that an applicant who has served a prison sentence is a more dangerous threat than an applicant who was arrested for a crime that did not result in a prison sentence (e.g.,assault of an officer). Yet to deny all former prisoners who have served their time entry into a college or university because they are dangerous would seem unfair, unjust and even unchristian (consider the more extreme patricide case at Harvard a few years ago). This present push for universal background checks does not appear to be well thought out.

4. luigi - May 12, 2010 at 10:18 am

Colleges also have a responsibility to graduate and professional schools. They regularly fail to disclose to those schools the disciplinary records of their students and leave it to the graduate and professional schools to deal with students who have severe problems and pose significant risks. The colleges often claim that their nondisclosure is requires by privacy laws. This is not the case.

5. rollivier - May 12, 2010 at 10:24 am

This is yet another example of knee-jerk reaction leading to bad policy. Background checks on all students will lead to lower student university acceptance, leading to loss of funds, leading to less ability to deliver quality education to those students that are present. In times of budget crunches this seems to be a waste of money and a "killing of the golden goose."

Furthermore, how are schools going to determine which crimes are acceptable and which are inexcusable? Misdemeanors ok, felonies no? Some M's ok? Some F's ok? Jeeez... This guy needs to accept that this is a terrible tragedy, but knowing this kid had once been drunk and belligerent is in no way indicative that he would commit murder. That is fallacious reasoning and should be stopped and stopped now. OR - Print up a big banner that hangs in the entry way of the school that says WELCOME PARENTS AND STUDENTS TO POLICE STATE UNIVERSITY.

6. cwinton - May 12, 2010 at 10:40 am

If UVa had been aware of Mr. Huguely's arrest report I suspect the most it would have occasioned was counseling, which could well have failed to avert this tragedy. He may have a history of anger issues, but that does not appear to be part of his record and for all we know UVa may have had him in counseling. In any event, I don't think we want to get on the slippery slope of revealing medical records. There will always be the issues of what did you know and when did you know it. If UVa knew he was potentially dangerous and failed to act, then they have liability issues. It strikes me Mr. Casteen's posturing has a lot more to do with that then anything else.

7. drmink - May 12, 2010 at 12:19 pm

I agree with rolliver: this is just a knee-jerk reaction and an attempt to re-direct blame. It would not have made any difference if they knew that this student was arrested because as a student athlete he would have been given extra chances not afforded other students.

8. ehyouadvisor - May 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Allowing criminals onto campus is a tragedy waiting to happen. Virginia Tech had little idea of the danger that the South Korean student posed to the campus community and now you have individuals concerned that known offenders such as Huguely won't get a fair chance at bettering themselves at institutions like UVA. What next metal detectors for dorms and classrooms?!

Putting wolves among sheep is misguided, foolish, and counterproductive. To the ultra-liberal minded out there, I would say two words: Distance learning.

Keep criminals off campus where learning is being achieved and let them work from home confinement, prison, or other places that are equiped to handle societys losers.

9. ellenhunt - May 12, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Denying or even expelling students is beyond stupid, it goes against the needs of society, it consigns anyone who tangles with the law to a second class life. I don't say this lightly, because I am thinking of at least one case where I think society would have been served by turning that individual into an outcast. But that case is outweighed by the overwhelming majority who will not harm society.

In statistical terms, an event like Huguely is an extreme outlier. The odds of a student with an arrest record doing something like that are less than a million to one. If it were an industrial process we would call it six-sigma, the best attainable. So let us keep our heads and not play stupid political games to damage society because of him.

Murders will happen. There is no way to stop it entirely no matter what we do. Cops commit murders in their personal lives, so do prison guards, children, parents, professors, lawyers, all sorts of people. They do it for all sorts of reasons, from the understandable to the insane. Many of them have no criminal records at all, or if something is found it is a murky thing like the professor who killed her brother with a shotgun before killing members of her department.

Keep your heads screwed on straight people. Get a grip.

10. 22228715 - May 12, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Casteen's assertion that he would have taken action is hard to judge, because the proverbial hindsight visual acuity skews the ability to know for sure. However, in a 1998 case in which a UVa student viciously attacked another student, the judicial panel found the assilant responsible and suspended him for two semesters. When the student appealed to Casteen, he upped the sanctions and made it two full academic years. See the description contained in the legal case here http://va.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.%5CFDCT%5CWVA%5C2000%5C20001003_0000027.WVA.htm/qx from when the accused student sued the University. This lends some credence to Casteen.

11. oneadministrator - May 12, 2010 at 01:50 pm

Conducting a background check does not necessarily mean that you automatically exclude anyone convicted of a felony. It does allow the institution to ask additional questions and get more information that can be used to make a decision. Was the crime violent or non-violent? Premeditated or a 'crime of passion'? if the crime occurred while the student was drunk or high, what kind of rehab or counceling have they received? Most significantly, how long ago was the crime committed, and what has the student done with their life since then? Someone who has been out of prison for 6 years and has since held down a job or attended other schools with a clean record are less of a risk than someone who was released 6 months ago. Don't assume that those doing the background check have a clear line between acceptable and non-acceptable backgrounds. The additional information can lead to asking the proper questions to make an informed assessment of risk. No system is perfect, but the institution's primary concern has to be to create as safe an environment for learning as possible, within reason.

12. latino - May 12, 2010 at 02:07 pm

I am extremely sorry for what happened to Miss Love, and for all the families related.

Definitely you can check criminal backgrounds but that will not solve the problem. That is just politics but I understand also the stress that drives toward that measure. My question will be How this guy was out of radar having this behavior? Did someone ring the bell around previously but was not taken seriously?
This problem is a matter of educate college people (all) on community living, improving communication among them,a and discussing fair solutions. Students sometimes cannot control all things; create student mentors.

Creating a criminal society is not the answer.

13. wb2ldj - May 12, 2010 at 03:13 pm

It would certainly seem that a word processing PC generated secured postcard could have been sent to the dean of students by the Lexington PD. This is UVA, a place where you would expect less tolerance in such a breach of trust and the honor code. According to "Sports Illustrated" this woman was also punched by the man on campus in a separate minor incident broken up by some NC State team students. That was not a little thing in my opinion at the Virginia Gentlemen's campus and should have been reported to the dean of students and her front door was not locked that night creating "the list" that lead to this horror story that should not have happened. This week UVA students were robbed at gun point due to an unlocked front door at midnight. When i was in college there was more of a difference between the "real world". Safety, safety, safety (at home, on the road, in personal life); i can't stress it enough. This started when the Bible and prayer were taken out of public schools, getting worse every decade with school shootings of the 90's. GS

14. drmink - May 12, 2010 at 03:34 pm

The "Virginia Gentlemen's Campus" at UVA has become a farce in the last few decades. It is no longer a place where you can leave items out in plain view and expect them to be there when you return. It is sadly like most other college campuses, a place where petty crimes occur daily and are largely accepted.

And please, it has nothing to do with prayer in school. You should hear what the students at Liberty University habitually do when no one is looking.

15. supertatie - May 12, 2010 at 05:57 pm

Let's see - Virginia Tech killer? Middle class Asian student. Northern Illinois University killer? Middle class white student. Virginia killer? Upper middle class white student.

How would screening for arrest records of applicants tend to marginalize and prejudice inner city kids? And note I said "arrest records," NOT convictions. Admissions committees are smart enough to connect the dots between multiple arrests (for vandalism, DUI, assaults) of upper-class kids, the ability to pay for attorneys, and acquittals.

16. aicasflib - May 12, 2010 at 06:50 pm

"WELCOME PARENTS AND STUDENTS TO POLICE STATE UNIVERSITY." enough said.

17. scades - May 12, 2010 at 07:54 pm

Interesting that so many respondents want to wash their collective hands of such events. Wanna bet that the coach(es) of the lacrosse team knew this man was dangerous? It's past time for the NCAA to adopt some clear rules, applicable throughout collegiate sports: any form of off-field violence is grounds for a warning the first time, and immediate removal from team play the second time. That's regardless of state of sobriety, nature of provocation, location of behavior. (Should there be another step--one-year suspension followed by permanent suspension? Should this explicitly preclude play if the student transfers? I'll leave the details to others.)

We all know that, particularly in the "money" sports, star athletes have come to expect impunity, from high school onward. Our colleges and universities are educational institutions first. The first rules of nursery school are "hands and feet to yourself," and "no fighting, no biting." Seems to me these are minimal standards, 12 years later, for our "elite" athletes.

Steven Cades

18. mainiac - May 13, 2010 at 11:45 am

Those with cash and connections can clean up a rap sheet quickly. Knew a trust fund drunk kid whose pappy paid off judges to the tune of 20-35K per DUI. Kid had 6+ convictions tossed; he has an unblemished record. Normal folks would be on the chain gang.

19. mutualrespect37 - May 13, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Lower Midwestern schools such as the universities of MO, KS, NE, in order to protect themselves from financial liability often get their in-house, conflict-of interest police forces involved in civil rights disputes. The Diversity or HR office will often dispatch the police to harass discrimination complainants and muzzle their email and other communications. This form of police power abuse has a disparate impact on diverse students and workers -- plus, civil rights law says civil rights complaints should not be handled punitively, let alone criminalized. Should anyone really have to cop to a police rap record based on something like this that simply illustrates the corrupt interests of the state in ruining people's lives and prosecuting citizens in a way that violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the constitution ? Background checks will lead to more abuses and support a police state mentality.

20. mutualrespect37 - May 14, 2010 at 12:11 am

The southern-justice mindset and capacity for using the legal system as a tool to wreck people's lives is larger than those who live in more liberal parts of the country might imagine. Don't forget the number of prosecutions everywhere that revolve around money and politics. When a bullying university is behind a criminal prosecution(especially malicious unamerican cases rooted in protected speech issues ) it's obvious they will have unfair access to law enforcement resources and more money at their disposal than an individual defendent.

21. lexpert - May 14, 2010 at 12:21 am

Which is more probative of whether a student will assault another student: 1) when a student has assaulted another student on campus? or 2) when a student has resisted arrest of police in antoher city.

President Cateen's lament that he wished he knew about the arrest is a cover-up for the fact that the Lacrosse Coach knew of Hugeuly's violent assaualt on a sleeping teammate who allegedly escorted Huguely's girlfriend home on night.

But the crime here is that even as of Thursday, May 13, President Cateen has NOT even begun any internal investigation of that violent episode, lamely says he doesn't know much about the incident, and backs the coach without even asking him about the incident (who did not suspend Huguely or report it to campus police, etc.)!

Bottom line: UVA had evidence of this guy's violent behavior on campus and didn't do anything about it---forget about the arrest. Wouldn't be surprised if UVA gets sued for this.

22. charliebrown - May 14, 2010 at 07:49 am

Huguely's documented history of aggression while under the influence is relevent and had it been known this tragedy may have been avoided. The accused and his victim were likely doing some serious binge drinking prior to. UVA can cliam they are not liable if they can show they were unaware of prior risk and the reckless activities that led up to the incident. They are liable if they were aware. It's catch 22, damned if they do, damned if they don't. If UVA knew Huguely had a history of violence while under the influence it would have given them some teeth in dealing with him. Casteen should be applauded.

23. mbelvadi - May 14, 2010 at 09:40 am

What I find deeply concerning is the conflating of an "arrest record" with a "conviction record" into the general category, "criminal record". Almost anyone can be arrested for anything, without any serious proof, and wrong arrest (e.g. arresting an innocent person) happens routinely in inner cities. In our judicial system, the only judgment on a person's record that should be available to institutions outside of the criminal justice system itself, is the conviction record, in which the person has had the benefit of full due process (or at least as close as our system can come to it) before being given the permanent black mark on their life's record.

24. acetylcholine - May 14, 2010 at 03:17 pm

"unfair, unjust and even unchristian"

Pardon me, but when was christian supposed to immediately be synonymous with 'good'?

Good is not the purview of one belief set.

25. acetylcholine - May 14, 2010 at 03:19 pm

"This started when the Bible and prayer were taken out of public schools, getting worse every decade with school shootings of the 90's. GS"

Got proof to back that ridiculous claim up?

26. casemom - May 18, 2010 at 08:21 am

As a former University Student Conduct Officer for the past ten years I can honestly say that doing background checks was by far the best tool used to keep tabs on the present day student. No, we did not immediately terminate our relationship with the student but we bring them in to meet with our staff and let them know that we were aware of their previous incidents and what our expectations were regarding the pursuit of their degree.

It is the only "fair" way of handling a multiple of students from various cultures and backgrounds. In returning to a now urban public school environment, I find the need to clear al students as almost vital. You would be surprised at the number of students attending college with previous criminal records. It stems from sexual deviants, violent criminals and beyond. Unfortunately as diverse as the student population is; it is still heavily poplulated with people between 18 - 24 years old who have not been exposed to the mayhem and lifestyles of some of their colleagues.

True the background checks may not be the best answer, but what is? Just remember, all the goodwill in the world means nothing when Jennie Cleary{a.k.a.-The Cleary Act-Lehigh University, the SGA President form UNC-Chapel Hill,the basketball player from Baylor,
the football player from the University of Memphis or your son or your daughter was he victim.

Unless you were the administrator that had to make that call to the parent of a deceased college student, or the parent receiving that call you may want to review your position again before deciding that the aggressor's rights are the main point of focus in this discussion.

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