• November 22, 2014

Experts Debate Fairness of Criminal-Background Checks on Students

More than 60 percent of colleges consider applicants' criminal histories in admissions decisions, but less than half of those have formal policies for how to do so, according to the results of a survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers that were presented on Wednesday to a group of college lawyers.

"Do you really want to have this stuff on the record if you don't know what to do with it?" Barmak Nassirian, an associate executive director of the registrars' group, asked legal experts during a heated debate on background checks that took place here at the annual conference of the National Association of College and University Attorneys.

Mr. Nassirian pointed to the unpublished survey, which his group conducted with the Center for Community Alternatives, an advocacy group for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, in arguing against what he called untrained, mechanical decisions to keep prospective students with rap sheets out of higher education.

Of the colleges that ask for criminal or disciplinary histories, most do so on applications for admission. The Common Application, for example, includes questions about convictions for any felonies or misdemeanors, as well as academic or behavioral misconduct at any educational institution. Colleges are particularly concerned by violent crimes and those related to alcohol, drugs, or sex, according to the survey, which polled about 250 institutions.

Still, only 38 percent of admissions staffs receive training on interpreting criminal records, Mr. Nassirian said. "The dean of enrollment doesn't know diddly."

At the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, several administrators evaluate students' criminal histories, Patricia L. Leonard, vice chancellor for student affairs there, told the group of lawyers. During admissions season there, a Campus Safety and Investigations Committee—with representatives from the police department, counseling center, and general counsel's office, among other divisions—meets weekly to review criminal-background checks on students whose application disclosures raise red flags, said Ms. Leonard. (The survey found that 18 percent of colleges conduct background checks on some subset of general applicants.)

Last year, the university asked 10 percent of its applicants to order criminal-background checks, and half of those did. They each paid $20 to a private company, which sent reports to the campus, as well as to the students.

The university denied all applicants who did not submit the checks but cleared for admission 92 percent of those who did. The students it turned away posed alcohol or drug, integrity, or safety risks, Ms. Leonard said. The committee had considered whether those students, if enrolled at the time of their infractions, would have been suspended or expelled. "Those are fair questions," she said, "for an institution to be asking."

Response to Tragedy

Such questions tend to arise in the wake of a tragedy. The University of North Carolina system introduced its policy of investigating some students' criminal backgrounds in 2007, three years after a student and a recently expelled student at the Wilmington campus were each accused separately of the murders of students. The alleged murder of a student by her classmate this spring at the University of Virginia prompted its president to propose checks of students' criminal records every semester.

"One horrific event sets in motion what in my judgment is a punitive reaction, in the name of safety," Mr. Nassirian said of what he sees as a pattern. Criminal records are often inaccurate or misleading, he said, and prior charges or convictions do not predict future behavior. The judicial system should decide whom to isolate, said Mr. Nassirian. "If a person doesn't belong on campus, what are they doing free in our society?"

Still, campuses are continually exploring new ways to meet public expectations and to try to keep students safe. Criminal background checks—and not just self-disclosures—may become the industry standard, particularly for residential students, said Darby Dickerson, dean of Stetson University's College of Law, and another presenter at the legal conference. "You need to keep your eye out on this," she said, "especially if you are in a state where other schools are doing it."

One common concern is that conducting checks exposes colleges to more liability. A lawsuit from a victim or victim's family, the thinking goes, will argue that an institution should have known to prevent a violent incident. But establishing negligence means proving that a college acted unreasonably, said Ms. Dickerson. "It's not per se unreasonable," she said, "to admit a student with a criminal record."

She recommended not simply considering students' criminal histories, but establishing policies to evaluate them fairly and consistently. Such policies should specify how to handle sealed juvenile records, news reports of arrests or convictions, and other tricky circumstances like reduced charges; how to disclose admissions decisions to applicants; and how to control access to students' criminal records, to limit accusations of discrimination and defamation.

Institutions should also consider updating their information with repeated checks, Ms. Dickerson advised. And legal and mental-health experts must regularly train the administrators who make decisions on which students to let in versus keep out, she said. "Just putting background checks in place I'm not really sure is going to do much for campus safety."

Comments

1. spfldnet - July 01, 2010 at 06:22 am

If one must include criminal background checks, one must also take up the burden of every fact in each discovered case. No half measures on the precipice of discrimination liability.

2. prfsr1 - July 01, 2010 at 07:20 am

I have been told that a criminal background check is only accurate for 24 hrs. Will the school administrators review the record within that time? What is the correlation of someone with a criminal history and committing a crime on campus? Many incidents are committed by individuals with undiagnosed illnesses. Are colleges going to give a pscyhological test to all students and have a medication dispensary?

What about criminal background checks for administrators and faculty? There have been numerous cases of staff/faculty committing crimes on campus. If you have nothing to hide, how could you object?

What is good for the students should be good for the staff/faculty.

s/Professor of Justice Studies

3. vlghess - July 01, 2010 at 08:08 am

Two comments:
1. re: staff and faculty, many employment applications also ask about prior felony convictions and the like, so presumably the issues are similar.

2. re: "if they shouldn't be on campus, why are they free in society?"
The law allows lots of people to go free for a variety of reasons relating to everything from legal technicalities to overcrowded jails to ...
Colleges and universities have a right and responsibility to seek a greater level of safety than is possible overall in a free society.

4. prfsr1 - July 01, 2010 at 09:08 am

Yes, some applications for administrators/faculty ask the question. But people with evil or deceptive intent are prone to lie, especially if they know there will not be a criminal background check.

Haven't there been cases recently where administrators were found to have fudged their qualifications? Why not lie about criminal history?

5. ichrysso - July 01, 2010 at 09:38 am

Re: #1 "If one must include criminal background checks, one must also take up the burden of every fact in each discovered case. No half measures on the precipice of discrimination liability."

It's a shame that all of the burden would need to be taken up by the school and that liability is even a concern.

My brother is a high school teacher. An incident occured at his school when a fight broke out between a number of students. A faculty member intervened and broke his back in the incident. He will no longer walk as a result.

He sued the school and won on the premise that adequate securty was not provided. Why does a school have to provide security? Did Laura Ingalls' schoolhouse on the prairie require security? The punch line is that nothing ever happened with either of the fighting students, save for a brief suspension. They never were required to feel the financial burden that we as a society must be forced to pay.

Lesson learned - either the school has to pony up for every contigency or settle these expensive lawsuits. The students are not punished with paying that bill and thus never learn their lesson. Then we, as taxpayers, have to all collectively pay for the idiocy of the students.

It would all be very simple, if we put the onus of responsibility back on the students. Students have a real deterrent, schools don't have to administer provisions such as security and the taxpayers are not required to pay for the actions of the rotten apples.

And we wonder why we're broke as a country...

6. davi2665 - July 01, 2010 at 10:32 am

A criminal background check is essential for ALL individuals on a campus, including faculty, staff, administration, and students. A background of violent criminal conduct, integrity issues, significant drug and alcohol problems, should be grounds for not taking on the added liability of someone who already has had major issues. Would you want your medical student class to have individuals in it who have cheated/plagiarized, had serious drug and alcohol problem, had assault or domestic violence issues? It is bad enough when someone already in the profession has these issues, and must be disciplined, treated, fired, or whatever other options exist. But to invite these problems onto a campus when you already know they exist is total insanity, and reflects the extreme to which the egalitarianism of "political correctness" has gone. Perhaps it is obvious, but a uniform code of conduct and stated information in a faculty/staff/student/administrative handbook should explicitly state the expected conduct in writing, with written notice that a past history of violent behavior, etc., is not acceptable for anyone related to the university.

7. hawkeyecc - July 01, 2010 at 11:52 am

Criminal background checks are now the norm in many health science academic programs. Our nursing program has been doing them for a couple of years now. Our students are then subjected to another check when they apply for licensure, ensuring that nothing criminal has occured during their time in our program. Our students are made aware of the requirement prior to ever registering for the first course. It is a posted requirement on our information sheets shared with prospective students. So, there is no surprise here, students know what to expect.
As for faculty, I have been here more than ten years and a background check was done at the time of my initial hiring, as is done with all new hires. I believed that was the norm. I am surprised that many of you have not had that same experience. As for ancillary staff, such as maintenance (which is outsourced), I have no idea what their policy is, but I'm pretty sure background checks are not done, which could raise some liability issues for the college.

8. richardnesmith - July 01, 2010 at 12:12 pm

We have required background check on all students in the school of education for years.

9. swish - July 01, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I seem to recall in the *Chronicle* a few years ago a story of a professor who had turned his life around after a violent and troubled youth, had done his time, gone to college, become a professor, and after a number of years found himself in danger of dismissal because of his criminal background. Can't remember the details -- does anyone else?

What happens to ex-cons who re-enter society but find themselves excluded from much of what that society has to offer? Seems to me they'd figure that the criminal path might have been the right one for them after all.

10. physicsprof - July 01, 2010 at 12:42 pm

#9. Was his name Bill Ayers? Ooops, I guess that one was never in danger of dismissal...

11. swish - July 01, 2010 at 01:08 pm

No, not Bill Ayers -- it was more like street crime, I think. Anyway, what if it was? He's another good example, as far as I'm concerned. He's never been accused of violence or lawbreaking since he became a professor. Hasn't been dangerous, except to the careers of politicians who had any association with him.

12. jlowery - July 01, 2010 at 01:36 pm

In 2003, the Chronicle ran a story on Paul E. Krueger who at the time was a faculty member at Penn State and had at the age of 17 been convicted of 3 murders. He earned several degrees while in prison and continued his education after his release.

On the issue of criminal background checks on students, another challenge not yet mentioned is that much of a traditional-aged college student's potential criminal record could well be part of juvenile records and not included.

13. wturnertsu - July 01, 2010 at 02:25 pm

The practical impact of requiring background checks of all applicants to colleges/universities/professional schools and using such information garnered, as shabby, incomplete and inaccurate as it is prone to be, to deny admissions to prospective students is to perpetuate the discriminatory practices and effects that we all know are already inherent in this country's criminal justice/injustice system.

A poor, unrepresented black kid in Mississippi, the same age as a middle-class white kid, represented by a highly-paid and well-connected white attorney, will, as the actual court records make abundantly clear, will have a felony conviction on his record for auto theft of a 88 Buick. The white kid who stole the same vehicle, in the same county, pled to joy-riding, a misdemeanor, and the record of his arrest and offense is forever sealed.

Does anyone out there question the rationale for enhanced charges and sentences for "rock" vs. powder, when the substance is one and the same? In the game of chess, moves by the more frequently successful players are very cleverly disguised. Are we now beginning to see a move that has always been on the board, but is just now being utilized to achieve checkmate? Law and order or King Richard was the openning move, mass incarceration of young blacks and felony charges for less than $20 was the ongoing check; mate is the denial of housing, employment,social services and now, educational opportunities.

Point of information: Criminal background checks are conducted by private corporations composed of human beings. Corporations oftentime require capital; banks and other lending institutions generally service them and provide additional funds, when applied for, if, the applicant fits a certain demographic. Without belittling or overemphasizing the point: there is still a great deal of racial discrimination in the administration of justice, as well as within corporations' and banks' hiring practices. That same discrimination will be reflected in the admission practices of institutions that, until here recently, was committed to developing, training and retraining young, eager minds.

A quick truestory: An elderly black man, with tremendous character and superior intelligence was charged with theft of a wagon-load of corn in the 1940's and sent to Parchman for 10 years. The corn was purchased from a white man, who, embezzled money from the farmer and claimed that the black man stole the corn, instead of paying for it. Could the black man get a fair trial in Mississippi in the early 1940's? How much weight did his testimony have against a white man engaged in white-collar crime, when he appeared at trial? The white man went on living and enjoying the privileges of being a white man in Mississippi and all that being white entailed; the black man died in 1989, never having had the opportunity to fulfill his entrepreneurial potential.

Any adoption or application of an admission policy that provides for a blanket denial of educational opportunity to individuals based upon past status or condition is discriminatory on its' face and violative of the U.S. Constitution. That is especially the case following more than two decades of the wholesale arrest, indictment and wrongful conviction of hordes of young, African American males. Who among us will deny the impact of racial discrimination in a system that is tilted overwhelmingly toward whites, particularly in some regions of the country, most noteably, where there wasn't more than to states which voted for the current Commander-In-Chief?

14. prfsr1 - July 01, 2010 at 02:29 pm

Davi, Hawkeye (U of I?) and Swish -

Before becoming a professor of criminology and justice studies, I had been a counselor, case manager and administrator with a State Dept of Corrections for 15 yrs and also a social worker in the Child Protection Incest Unit having direct face to face contact and record review of over 5,000 offenders. I believe I have a little experience and know a little bit about the criminal mind and rehabilitation.

As a member of the Faculty Senate, I had recommended a criminal background check for faculty and adjunct in the largest community college district in the US. Conversation ended there. Not to be a pessimist, it's not a matter of if an incident will occur, it is a matter of when. I am proactive and preventive by nature.

It is deceptive to the public to believe that prisons have more non-violent offenders than violent ones. Are you aware of plea bargaining which occurs in 90% of the cases. What is recorded on the FBI Rap Sheet is the conviction which 90% of the time is not actually what occurred. Many offenders will bargain to have the violent crimes removed or reduced in exchange for a guilty plea to non-violent offense. To truly understand the crime of conviction, you have to read the police reports or the PSI or PSIR (pre-sentence investigative report) completed by probation departments in most jurisdictions.

Child protection offenses do not always include a criminal charge. Child protection in most jurisdictions is a civil matter and does not become a matter of record with the FBI on a criminal background check. One of my friends was a Dept. of Defense (DOD) background check investigator who also checked records at county social service agencies because MOST cases were not recoreded nationally to the FBI.

s/Professor of Criminology & Justice Studies

15. swish - July 01, 2010 at 02:30 pm

Thanks, I'm pretty sure that was it. I had some details wrong, it was so long ago.

And as to your other point, jlowery: don't forget the psychiatric history, also private, which could be as predictive as entanglements with the justice system.

16. your_rights - July 01, 2010 at 02:31 pm

Most institutions of which I am familiar require the faculty to submit a criminal record at their own cost before hiring. Everyone from the janitor to the president should be required to submit criminal records.
The rude, inconsiderate, give me more, etc. students are bad enough. Now you expect me to teach murders.
There is no such thing as rehabilitation.

17. jkruark - July 01, 2010 at 02:31 pm

Here is a link to the Chronicle story about Paul Krueger: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Price-of-Murder/13932/

-J. Ruark

18. swish - July 01, 2010 at 02:36 pm

prfsr1: If you hadn't said "I had recommended a criminal background check," I would not have been able to tell which side of this debate you were on. I cannot see how the information you present supports one side or the other.

19. prfsr1 - July 01, 2010 at 02:49 pm

Swish -

I was trying to give a foundation and examples why I support a criminal background check, so I apologize if it wasn't clear. The extra info about child protection cases not being recorded was just an alert that even if Criminal background checks are done and only the crime of conviction is noted, the investigation is still not totally complete.

20. prfsr1 - July 01, 2010 at 03:20 pm

Swish makes an excellent point about psychological records. Therapists in many states do not have to be licensed. I know of therapists who have clients and only accept check or cash for services so there is no tracking of individuals receiving therapy or reimbusement from insurance companies.

Your_rights presented a great idea and a process with which he is familiar. The applicant has to pay for a criminal background check - that reduces the cost burden for the college/university. I will approach the Faculty Senate with that information. Your_rights does have a legitimate concern about "Rehabilitation." With approx. 2/3's of offenders returning to prison within 3 yrs. of release, one has to wonder about rehabilitation.

21. swish - July 01, 2010 at 03:23 pm

Aha. That's the bit you left out, prfsr1: "... and most of them will re-offend." That's the little piece that makes your argument clear.

22. wturnertsu - July 01, 2010 at 03:47 pm

Conduct a background check. But, under no circumstance should any college, university or professional school be allowed to rely upon the purported finding of such check as the sole or primary reason for denial of admission, without a vigorous and sustained challenge, all the way to the Supreme Court, and beyond, if necessary.

To rely upon background checks to any great extent, to determine applicants fitness for seats at institutions of higher learning negates a paramount leg undergirding the criminal laws of this country: Rehabilitation. Even more than that, to do so would ignore or deny an obvious truth or fact about this country and her people, who, only recently allowed persons the opportunity to enter schools, regardless of race or gender. We're still engaged now in two wars based upon a farfetched notion of pre-emptive strike. Are we now going to pre-emptively deny persons opportunities, based upon purported past conduct, which, somehow a crystal ball has told someone they're going to repeat?

Surely, the Supreme Court has already clearly ruled that we, as a nation, can only go so far in putting into place, policies and practices to prevent, what are, in fact, merely imagined offenses, yet to occur, if ever, they will.

Introduction of policies denying access to individuals with prior offenses, whether as a result of real acts or trumped-up ones, in actuality, deprive students without blemishes the opportunity for an invaluable lesson about reality. Students' knowledge should be broaden, not limited, given the rash of violent crimes on campuses, today.

23. swish - July 01, 2010 at 03:47 pm

So, what you're saying is, people with criminal records are really bad guys, worse than their records indicate, and they don't change. So after they're released, rather than letting them harm people in academia, they should stay with their own kind, get menial jobs, and victimize only non-academic people until they get arrested again, which they invariably will.

And it's a shame that we cannot look at juvenile and psychiatric records (which by the way are *all* supposed to be private, not just those of unlicensed therapists) as well as adult court records; it'd be good to use those to shut people out as well.

If only 2/3 of offenders recidivate, isn't it likely that young people who want to go to college and are capable of being accepted into college are overrepresented among the 1/3 who don't? And isn't it possible that acceptance into college and the hope for a better future would help keep a person on the straight and narrow?

Maybe rehabilitation doesn't work all the time, but if it works some of the time, shouldn't it be given a chance? I'm concerned about protecting all of society, not just our campuses.

24. latino - July 01, 2010 at 04:01 pm

Could anyone tell those experts that if the system out-of-campus is discriminatory that "check" will be discrimatory as well? See who will be affected...

25. 22019391 - July 01, 2010 at 04:08 pm

No wonder college costs will continue to climb! Even if students are required to pay for the background checks themselves, the cost is real. Institutions will need to create bureaucracies to manage the process, review the reports, follow-up with students who neglect to submit them, deal with the ones that come in for the wrong person, etc. More costs to be passed on in the form of higher tuition.

If we're going to go down this route, why stop at criminal background checks? Why not require psychological testing? Bursars might also like to see credit reports.

26. prfsr1 - July 01, 2010 at 05:07 pm

Swish, yes I did leave out the psychological component which can be part of the equation. Did not want to belabor my point with more information and I am glad you raised that issue. Also, did not want to be bombarded by the psychological community who provide excuse theory in criminal behavior.

To clarify before this becomes unmanageable, I was commenting on criminal backgroud checks for faculty/administrators, not students. The check should only be a tool, not a sole source qualifier/disqualifier. Isn't it better to have too much information than not enough? My college system (largest in the country) does not conduct criminal background histories.

For a few years I was on the Board of Directors for Big Brothers/Big Sisters in a large city in Colorado and was successful in implementing a criminal background check for possible Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It would take only one convicted pedophile to have ruined such a worthy cause. While working as a social worker in the Child Protection Incest Unit, I had a family in which the father was a pedophile and working as a janitor (buildings and restrooms) for Disneyworld in Florida. Talk about a kid in a candy store.

For Wturnertsu, how else would you gauge or predict future behavior if you did not know past behavior? Have you ever been on a Parole Board or at a Parole Board Hearing? I have and it is not easy to make the decisions the Board does.

Love to take this discussion elsewhere. If you are in the Phoenix area, maybe we could chat.

s/Professor of Criminology

27. prfsr1 - July 01, 2010 at 05:54 pm

It seems that wturnertsu is hung up on discrimination. When you don't have documentation, just use the race card. Does W know that white catholics and native americans were the most discriminated groups in America? The "Poor Me" syndrome is a last ditch effort when substance does not support thinking. He/She is using something from 1940 to support current rationale.

28. bambi - July 01, 2010 at 06:23 pm

Imagine you made a stupid mistake when you were young. Now you have changed & want to become a better person with a respectable career that suits your ability. You want to be a medical doctor/ lawyer. But the door to your future is shut in your face because of the mistake you made five or ten years ago. How would you feel? What would you do.

An academic institution's basic function is to educate. What could it do if it refused to educate those who need education the most?

29. prfsr1 - July 01, 2010 at 08:50 pm

Bambi -

I agree with you, but there is a life lesson here: "There are consequences to bad behavior."

Again, I never mentioned or implied anything having to do with students. My whole argument was directed toward faculty/administrators.

30. dferrell - July 02, 2010 at 08:41 am

At colleges of Education in PA, yearly criminal history, child abuse, and (now-every 5 years) FBI fingerprinting is required for all students who will be working with children or anyone with disabilities. All faculty who supervise in the schools are also required to have these yearly clearances and the FBI fingerprining. Of course, we don't want child molesters in the schools and yet there they are despite these clearnces.

I talk to my students about the ramifications of doing illegal and stupid things because of the potential problems they can cause. Such as not being able to go into the schools for observations or pre-student teaching or becoming certifided teachers.

When I was superving student teachers at another institution (20 years ago when the push for these clearances really steamed ahead), I had an adult/nontraditonal student who had pled guilty to shoplifting on a dare when she was 18. She had to have an attorney help her get that expunged from her record and (at that time) needed a "pardon" from the governor.

Therefore, all students (who plan to work with children or people with disabilties) should come in with these clearnaces. I have some concerns about how this information is used for both students and faculty (e.g., FBI fingerprinting information supposed to be removed from the system immediately after clearance) but I have a feeling we are all now in the national data base. I have had to come to terms that there is no privacy and we just need to realize we are always on someone's radar.

31. swish - July 02, 2010 at 09:53 am

pfsr1: Take a look at this fairly clear and recent article (there are others; this one was handy): http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2010/mar/13/sentencing-study-finds-racial-disparity/.

Why? Not *necessarily* because of racism (although I'd guess that has a fair amount to do with it, in some courts), but it could result from poverty and lack of legal resources due to prior discrimination.

I also don't like the race card played every time things don't go your way, but in this case, it seems justified.

"There are consequences to bad behavior." Sure -- in the justice system. Let the judges judge, and let the rest of us give people the benefit of any doubt. I'm not a Christian, but for heaven's sake, WWJD in this so-called Christian nation? If we're going to shun people for life, we may as well make every criminal offense a life sentence ... or a death sentence.

32. prje8199 - July 02, 2010 at 11:44 am

Bambi,

I think there is a difference between a youthful mistake (even a tough past) and a criminal record. A DWI, a few fights (or disorderly conduct), and maybe a handful of speeding tickets can be viewed as poor life choices. As an admissions rep I would even be willing to look at a case involving manslaughter in certain instances. But...

Murder, rape, child abuse, and drug dealing simply can not be viewed as "oops, I goofed." These crimes alter other lives forever and must be repaid in the same time frame, forever. Shame on Penn State for having a triple murderer on the faculty.

33. prfsr1 - July 02, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Prje -

Ditto!!!

34. greenhills73 - July 02, 2010 at 02:48 pm

Thanks for a fascinating, intelligent discussion, everyone! I started reading with no idea where I stood, and I'm still sitting squarely on the fence!

35. wturnertsu - July 02, 2010 at 02:52 pm

I don't think history lessons I've had would support a claim that "Catholics...most discriminated" in American. In fleeing Europe, some non-catholics didn't wish to associate with them. However, I don't recall ready where any of them were enslaved because of religious beliefs or practices, except in Ancient Roman History classes.

The example of the elderly black man I met who was wrongly convicted in Mississippi in the 1940's does seem too remote for contemporary discussion. He did have grandchildren, who, had he not been treated unjustly and wrongful branded a felony his entire life, would probbaly have inherited an estate large enough to pay the increasing cost of education at today's large Ivy and near-Ivy schools. Don't like the example of Mr. Williams from the 1940"s? How about the "auto thief" from the late 1980's? Is that contemporary enough?

I'm caught up on black, when it comes to discriminatory policies and practices because my experiences, both direct and vicarious, convince me that the 21st Century, at least in the early decades, will be as much about the colorline, as was the 20th.

I wrote about what I know. If you're Catholic, gay or lesbian and know from your experiences the depth of discrimination suffered by your group or sub-group, then share it. As an African American with more than 50 years, in and outside the south, race matters and it has mattered most in courts' finding of guilt, as well as the type of offense that persons charged are recorded as being guilty of.

Any college or university, with an Administrative body that doesn't see the inherently racially-discriminatory impact of a policy that summarily deny admissions to applicants based upon criminal background checks is not sufficiently competent itself, to educate it's students about reality and the true nature of the society, in which they will be released, someday. After broad coverage of the release from death row of so many wrongfully convicted men, majority of whom are black, from Texas' prisons and other states, as well, who, among us can honestly say that criminal background checks, as a means of denying admissions, aren't discriminatory, and unconstitutional. Even a conservative or downright racist supreme court would find it hard to decide or rule otherwise. The one constant in the release of those men is their racial heritage, not their religious belief, their sexual-orientation, their body-mass or their ages. They were BLACK and THEY ARE CLASSIFIED, EVEN TO THIS DAY, AS FELONS, and policies such as the one discussed here, will deny them admissions to college, period.

36. wturnertsu - July 02, 2010 at 03:21 pm

Professor, I'm chopping at the bits to chat with you and anyone else. Like Mississippi Guvner Barbour, too many folks want to just dismiss the mistreatment and suffering of an entire race of people for centuries; they want to minimizie the impact that the direct suffering of our fore-parents (denial of economic, political and social rights) have upon present generations, as we strive to compete with those who are enjoying the inheritances from their fore-parents. Inheritances, mine you, that were wrenched from the blood, sweat and tears of blacks and enforced by the government. I need not go there. I'm sure that anyone reading here, if they're honest, are intelligent enough and can appreciate the advantages that one has who has been left a legacy, over one who was not, in a capitalist society. Not downing the system, merely accepting the fact that it has certain unchanging rules or laws: if you're left with something, you can possibly make something. If what you got was taken from another, then that other, is without an estate, or at least, has less of an estate, to leave heirs. If you've taken material resources, heirs are left very poor, indeed. If you've left them unable to transmit values and principles and have also created broken families to perpetuate a economic system, then you have left a lot of broken people and a few yerars of Affirmative Action are not nearly enough to fix what you have broken!

Denial of admission, based on criminal background checks, with data that is inherently racially (and other)-discriminatory, makes the situation worse and will only cripple us all, blacks and whites. Many veterans of foreign wars were trained to kill and they did it quite well. Were they denied admissions because in their backgrounds, regardless of the reasons, they killed. Sinced they killed, again, regardless of their reasons, are we to automatically separate them into classes for other killers, like themselves, because we fear they might kill others, who were never trained to kill? I think not. None would even consider such a policy. Why? Because regardless of one's background, in America, change is always possible and hope, springs eternal.

If ever I'm in Arizona, Professor, I would enjoy talking with you, too.

37. nicklau - July 02, 2010 at 08:19 pm

<Comment removed by moderator>

38. goxewu - July 03, 2010 at 08:50 am

I've really just skimmed the comments, but I don't seem to see any concrete proposals from those who favor mandatory criminal background checks of students as to exactly the consequences.

Any felony (including, say, embezzlement) = can't enroll? Only violent felonies = can't enroll? Misdemeanors count? Statute of limitations on how far in the past whatever crimes occurred? An appeal still in process? What about the idea of one having "paid the debt to society," i.e., done the time and being able to resume normal life, including going to college?

Note: And what of the consequences if people with criminal records (even restricted to felonies) not being able to attend college? They mill around on the streets, building up resentment working at minimum-wage jobs because the way to bettering themselves has been forever closed off?

39. janyregina - July 03, 2010 at 03:27 pm

When is the past atoned for? Is change allowed? What if someone were an alcoholic and got sober after many years and several DUIs. Would they be admitted? What about spousal abuse which is dealt with not much differently than when I was younger like alcohol. "The greatest predictor of future behavior is past behavior." Since this seems to be true, why bother trying to change or help others to better their lives?

Predicting dangerousness is not something psychologists do well and I am assuming that we want safe campuses.

Has anyone read Dylan Kliebolt's (think Columbine) mother's remarks about her son? What did you think? Had he been accepted at any colleges?

40. prfsr1 - July 03, 2010 at 09:22 pm

It is amusing that this dialog has strayed into racial discrimination, etc. when all I started out suggesting was criminal background checks for Faculty/Administrators.

WTURNERTSU, I am not dismissing your beliefs, but you do not have the whole story and when you do, maybe you might be willing to consider everything. I did NOT say Catholics were the most discriminated group in America. I said they were one of the most discriminated groups, Native Americans being number one (I am not Native-American so I am not speaking from bias). But what do I know only having taught Sociology and Race/Ethnic Relations. There were businesses and companies in the early 1900's that posted signs "No Catholics Need Apply." If you care to read about criminology, look at the "Strain Theory" which can expalin a lot about the Italian Mafia (Organized Crime to be politically correct). If you can refer to the 1940's, I can use the 1960's alarm when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, ran for President. Racial groups do not have a monopoly on discrimination/prejudice.

You seem to present a selected case and use a broad brush to a conclusion. One study I recently saw said there were other racial groups that had a higher hate crime rate (not numbers) than whites. How do you explain that?

I am only asking you look at both sides of an issue before making such statements.

41. bambi - July 06, 2010 at 04:24 pm

Thanks, Swish & Goxewu, for speaking my mind!

Prfsr1, true, "There are consequences to bad behavior," and indeed, there should be! But I'm talking about those who have paid the price, i.e. serving time, not being able to get certain jobs, etc. And after all of that, should they still be refused an education they want & need?

Janyregina, it seems you don't believe in education, that education can make a difference!

42. swish - July 07, 2010 at 10:00 am

Just a few more, to the professor:

1. Sure, JFK lost votes as a Catholic, but he WON. We have yet to see a Mormon (or various other Christian denominations), Jewish, Hindu, Moslem, or atheist president.

2. My parents remembered "no Jews" signs and policies in *this* country when they were kids in the 1920s and 30s. (But they agreed that blacks had it way worse.)

3. You may be talking about background checks just for faculty, but the *article* is about background checks for students. Some people may be commenting on the article itself, not necessarily responding to you.

43. wturnertsu - July 07, 2010 at 12:01 pm

Thanks, swish. Any half-educated adult with minimum integrity and consciousness will readily concede that there are various forms of discrimination in America, past and present. The Supreme Court has delineated several and declared that members of particular groups are automatically included in a "suspect class" and subject to greater scrutiny, not to prove discrimination, but rather, as a starting point, to eliminate it as a factor.

I do not write about discrimination as a passing fancy. It is a subject that I have devoted more than 48 years of my life studying. When I was twelve, a highway patrol (back then they were all white in Mississippi) ordered my dad to "walk the line" and "count the number of fingers" he, the officer, was holding up while that same officer shined his flashlight in my father's eyes. Driving and unloading a grocery truck, with many stops, from sunup to sundown, in the middle of summer in Mississippi, when the truck furnished by the company had no air, will bring on fatigue, not drunkenness. After seeing my father humiliated by a white man, barely older than myself, and hearing my father say: "If we had some good colored lawyers, we could stop that." I was etermined to become one and to try to understand what would lead a white man to interfere with a black man and call him boy, especially when the black man had spent the day delivering groceries so the officer's white ass and his family could eat.

The history of criminal justice in this country and the unresolved legacy of slavery, an economic system based upon race and racial attitudes buttressed by religion and myth to make it acceptable, make it abundantly clear, any policy that deny admissions to educational institutions or employment opportunities, based solely upon criminal background checks, is inherently discriminatory and unconstitutional. What would it say about the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness?

My response was more to the article. However, because there are more than a few individuals of African descent, who, rightly or wrongly, are classified felons and their convictions, whether justifiable or not, occurred, in some case decades ago, are seeking positions for which they are eminently qualified, the idea of using background checks as the primary or determinig basis for hiring or rejecting a propspective employee is just as offensive to justice and fairness as is denying admissions to students, based solely upon past run-ins with the law, for which they've paid the price and fulfilled all other requirements meted out by the court.

A challenge must be mounted, as soon as possible, to nip the practice in the bud before it becomes entrenched in the law and established as a precedent, due to common application.

Thanks, again, swish.

44. wturnertsu - July 07, 2010 at 12:37 pm

PRFSR1, is the institution where you teach hiring? Would they consider hiring a mature, well-adjusted, responsible, non-violent and law-abiding African American male who has a felony conviction in Mississippi more than a decade ago for possessing less than $5.00, yes, five dollars worth of cocaine residue in a can that he didn't even know he had? Of course, if you did a background check, and I invite you to do so, it will state that I was charged with distribution or sell. Some checkers state the final resolution; others, merely the charge. Thus, this anomally exist where, depending upon who it is that does the check, and are paid unbelievably well for it, a person charged with murder, but found not-guilty, by virtue of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that he or she acted in necessary defense of self or a child, is shown only in the backgound check as being charged with murder. Such a person will never find decent employment or, if so, his chances of promotion are slim to none. Despite the ruling of the court (remember O.J.), many people still believe one is guilty. If not, why did the police arrest them and why did the D.A. bring the charge? Juries and judges aren't perfect. Many innocent persons have died in "the chair." More than a few guilty persons have gone uncharged or un-convicted. Reliance upon background checks, conducted by infallible companies, manned by infallible beings, is a sure fire way to guarantee that this country continues to perpetuate a system of mediocrity. Just as guaranteeing a person a seat at colleges or a position in government, merely because of the color of his or skin, as some argues, perpetuates mediocrity by denying the most qualified those seats and positions, the practice of denying opportunites based upon based violations or accusation of such, insure that the most qualified, in far too many instances, will be passed over for a less qualified applicant, whose only experiences for most of his or her life was in a convent or on a mid-west farm. Where is the broad experience so valuable and necessary to a increasingly more diverse universe?

I'm employed. However, I would be willing to relocate, if details can be worked-out to everyone's mutual satisfaction.

45. prfsr1 - July 08, 2010 at 05:37 am

This has been a very lively and interesting debate/discussion and I admire people who have expressed their beliefs and opinions on social issues since I teach social sciences, criminology and justice studies. What is the truth of the matter? Truth comes from: 1. Personal Experience, 2. Faith, 3. Research, 4. Experts. I think we can see that in the responses that most expressions were from the seed of one of the four sources of truth. I never did advocate, and never have, a criminal background check for students. I have had a fair number of students with other than stellar backgrounds in class and I treat/support them as equals. I actually advocate for them for trying to overcome their histories and they usually want to use their experiences in a career in which to help guide others to not go the same illegal path. Lost in the discussion was my intent to say faculty/administrators should have criminal background checks if students were required. Yes, I do believe in rehabilitation and change since I have worked as a case manager/counselor/administrator in a State Prison system for 15 yrs. so I know a tad bit about criminal and future behavior. There are many EXPERTS outside of the criminal justice system who have no clue what they are talking about and just repeat tired conclusions/statements without documentation. No discussion or argument is going to change their minds and I'm not trying to do that. I was trying, maybe poorly, to show both sides of the issues. As one of seven children from a lower middle class family whose parents were high school graduates of eastern European heritage, I am in my position today through my own focus and means not having been assisted in my college accomplishments in any financial way by family. I don't blame anybody for having gone the tough road and just did it. Everyone has been discriminated against in some way: attractiveness, short, tall, male, female, black, white, latino, jewish, catholic, yada, yada, yada. I don't buy into the Poor Me Syndrome. A management tool I learned is don't criticize unless you have a specific solution and become actively involved in making a difference. Armchair quaterbacks are a dime a dozen.

And Wturnertsu, our college would consider you based on the merit of your teaching ability - no criminal background checks. We have black, white, latino, pakistanian, lesbian, heterosexual, male, female, short, tall, ugly, attractive, fat, thin etc. faculty.

46. wturnertsu - July 08, 2010 at 11:24 am

Thanks, PRFSR1. If I didn't think from reading your post that you were/are a sincere and very well informed professor and positive influence in the lives of others, particularly students, I wouldn't be online with you now. Although I'm drastically under-utilized, in terms of what I am able to offer society, in the areas of social studies and criminal justice issues and I have plenty of time on my hand, I refuse to waste any of it, reaching out to or responding to others, unless I feel the other(s) is genuinely interested in helping to create a better world for my/our children, grandchildren and others.

Based upon the real merit of my teaching ability, without boasting, I assure you that I'm more than qualified to hold simultaneous Chairs at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. As for my political leanings and social and racial diversity, if other members of your staff can bring itself to get over just how ugly I am, I have no doubt that I would fit in quite admirably with you. Since I'm not there, I wish you all Godspeed in helping to shape a greater society that is equally as willing and capable of embracing the diversity, and all the richness that it entails, that you reflect at your institution.

Again, thank you for indulging me. I do sincerely wish you all well and bid you now, farewell, friend.

Isn't The Chronicle, The Greatest!

47. prfsr1 - July 08, 2010 at 06:47 pm

WTURNERTSU - There is hope. I am ugly and they hired me. Maybe it was a diversity program! :) Good Luck to you.

Arizona is growing by leaps and bounds. ASU based in Tempe (border of Phx) is the second largest university in the US and the Maricopa County Community College district (family of 10 public community colleges) is the largest community college system in the US and growing by leaps and bounds in enrollments (currently have 200,000 students/year).

s/poor white ugly guy

48. adminmjp - July 30, 2010 at 09:00 am

You are assuming that, by asking the question and getting the answer, these students are not admitted. Not always the case. In the hundreds of criminal background reviews we've done on our campus, I can only think of a couple that we did not admit. But it created an opportunity for discussion with the student in many cases -- connecting him/her with counseling or alcohol education services, for example. It also caused that student to really have to think and consider who they were going to be in this community, what they wanted to do with their education, and how they had learned to make better decisions. There is nothing in any of those things that is not a good exercise.

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