Skip to comments.Background checks rile professors
Posted on 08/08/2004 1:12:59 PM PDT by wagglebee
As incoming college freshmen fret about roommates and rosters this month, incoming faculty may be glancing back warily at their own college days, hoping that certain youthful indiscretions - or worse - will remain forgotten.
Criminal background checks, standard practice for new hires in much of the working world, have invaded the upper echelons of higher education. Now the professors, once vouched for by clubby collegial networks, increasingly undergo scrutiny all too familiar outside academia. They are not happy.
Cheap technology is pushing aside good judgment, says Jonathan Knight of the American Association of University Professors.
While conceding that security investigations make sense for some academics - those who work with children or with biological agents, for instance - he believes the suspicion that everyone may have something to hide dampens morale without predicting future crime. "Why the professor of medieval poetry should go through this is hard to understand," he says.
As in the outside world, fears of terrorism and workplace violence, along with widespread misrepresentation of credentials, fuel the rush to investigate. Some favor taking any step that might make life safer for a student. Others believe the breakdown of trust inherent in the background-check mentality poses a far more serious threat.
Much of the furor is fueled by the discovery last summer that college professor Paul Krueger spent four years teaching at Penn State University before the school learned that he had murdered three fishermen 40 years earlier.
The sensational case prompted universities nationwide to look hard at their hiring practices, and led a Pennsylvania legislator to introduce a bill requiring criminal background checks for professors hired by universities and colleges in the state. "If a triple murderer is in the classroom, it makes you wonder who else is in the classroom," said Rep. Matt Baker, who introduced the bill.
Student-on-student crime actually accounts for the bulk of campus crime, with most of the rest attributed to out-siders, says Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus, a watchdog and victim advocacy organization. But, he argues, "given the level of trust and access they have, it would be prudent" to investigate faculty.
Focusing on faculty, however, might give a false sense of security, and divert attention and resources from the more real threat posed by other students, counters Pennsylvania lawmaker Greg Vitali. He believes Baker's bill is driven by sensationalism and will harm recruiting efforts, and favors leaving the decision up to individual colleges.
"In judiciary hearings, no one could cite a single instance of a college professor who had a criminal record ever doing harm to a student," says Mr. Vitali.
The checks themselves are of questionable merit. One criminology study showed that a private firm, given a list of 120 people known to be on parole or probation, found criminal records for only 56 of them. Doing slightly better, the FBI found records for 87.
Krueger himself reportedly was given two background checks when applying for previous employment, neither of which unearthed his criminal record.
According to press reports at the time, Krueger killed three men on impulse at the age of 17. He received a life sentence. In prison, however, he was a model inmate, earning a degree in psychology and helping in drug and alcohol prevention programs. Because of his good behavior, Krueger was set free in 1979.
When the murder came to light last summer, some of his Penn State colleagues told reporters that he had been an exemplary professor.
The fact that Krueger's past never came to light in previous checks indicates that even when checks are run, a wide margin of error remains.
"One of the problems with criminal-record information is the accuracy of the information," says Peter LeVine, of Peter LeVine Associates, Inc., which evaluates prospective employees. "There is no standard."
Search methods can be superficial or sophisticated, and can yield all manner of personal data from local, state, or federal records.
But job candidates are likely to have lived, worked, or driven through any number of jurisdictions in their travels. Social Security numbers have been entered incorrectly; felonies have been recorded as misdemeanors; records have been sealed and expunged, sometimes rightly, sometimes in error. And while the existence of fingerprints may indicate an arrest, they may also indicate military service or past work as a bank teller. As to who is qualified to assess such background material - and to decide what role it plays in hiring - is anyone's guess.
Errors can happen, says Willie Freeman, security chief of the 43,000-student Newark, N.J., public school system. Calling the private screening companies "a dollar a doughnut," he believes that systems like Newark's - which pays the state of New Jersey $78 for electronic fingerprints to be checked against local, state, and FBI records - work well. "I don't know who would object to it," he says flatly.
Academics say their status as campus elites does not shield them from the indignities visited on the masses.
"We object to the fact that just because it's done elsewhere for all members of a certain profession, it should be done for other professions as well," says Mr. Knight. The American Association of University Professors does not object to application form self-disclosure questions which ask about criminal conviction, he says.
For all the fuss, no one pretends that the $39 Penn State and other schools now spend to check each new hire will reliably weed out the Paul Kruegers. Advocates and opponents alike agree that if nothing else, the trend reflects universities' efforts to protect themselves.
"If something did happen on campus, the potential negligence lawsuits could be avoided," says Representative Baker. Even with nothing more than the addition of a self-disclosure question on the application, he says, "at least there's been an effort ... at least they've done their due diligence."
I'm not sure it should be a law, but if you DON'T run a background check -criminal and personal - on an employee these days, you're a damn fool. I am a professor, and know personally of instances where this would haved a lot of people a lot of grief. Also, as Mike Adams has pointed out (see http://www.townhall.com ), background checks on students are just as necessary.
I wonder how many of these professors demand background checks on gun buyers?
I don't remember the academics claiming before that "...the suspicion that everyone may have something to hide dampens morale without predicting future crime. "
What a revelation. Academics against the Brady Law. Or is it only their own backgrounds that needn't be checked?
Yeah, but how many of his colleagues ever accepted an invitation from him to go fishing?
He committed it in my hometown of Corpus Christi.
Not this one.
Sounds like a civil litigation problem far more than a crime risk problem. If most or all the professorial crimes have come up with the offender's previous background clean as seems to be implied here, it looks like a solution chasing a nonproblem.
Because they are being hired to be authority figures for our children.
If you haven't already joined the anti-CFR effort, please click here.
here is a background check for the professors: tell us your background. if you lie you must return all salary received. sign here.
no, thats not why. its a breeders decision who they entrust their offspring to, checks or no. background checks are necessary because the citizens of the us subsidize colleges and universities.
Seems like the Profs don't want to live in the World that they helped to Create.
I love the Internet!
In the past it was said "God made Man, Sam Colt made them Equal"
Now it can be said "God made Man, Algore made them Equal"
"I'm not all that concerned about the minor scrapes with the law these leftists had 20 or 30 years ago, but I'm very concerned about the leftist, extremist and terrorist links these educators/indoctrinators have today."
With many like al Kerri, it is part of their total package.
Many of the left wing professors and rats in politics started their careers as mini terrorists on the streets of America. Then the more successful ones took that hatred of America and our military and used it to get elected to public office. Some even became governors, congressits and senators. One became president and now a second one is trying to be our president.
Another question about the left wing professors how many have had serious criminal acts buried by the campus police to keep the name of the university clean and pure?
The college professors have forgotten something very important. They have been HIRED by the PARENTS who have sent their children to that particular college to provide a higher level of education to their children.
That in a nut shell is what a college education is all about.
Those EMPLOYEER/PARENTS have a right to know who is teaching their children. That goes beyond the bits of parchment that are hanging on office walls.
Those EMPLOYER/PARENTS have the right to review what they are getting for their money and if they are not satisfied they have the RIGHT to change colleges; or demand changes in that college.
Life was so easy when the student radicals of the 60s took control of higher education and they could collectively ignore the world.
Like life outside the ivy covered fortresses of the liberal left, many things have changed after September 11, 2001. Free market forces are a real bummer (to quote the old radical down the street).
"I wonder how many of these professors demand background checks on gun buyers?"
Excellent question, Doctor CO!
Noam Chomsky is the best argument there is to explain this. A professor of linquistics (and a brillint one), he uses that as a stepping stone to promote his extreme anti-American views.
A prof who has smoked pot at home in the past, is a "near certainty" to smoke pot on campus in the future? News to me, though if a valid study proves it I can't argue.
Not that I disagree with your argument, but only to state that their are NO children in college. Once their 18, they are an adult. If we can command them to fire an M-16 at a towelhead in some Muslim country, then we can afford them the trust to make their OWN decisions in college.
Screw the "professors". They need to be required to go through the same crap I have to. I've had it to my ass with these holier-than-thou progressive types.
Maybe not, if you're talking about physical harm.
But there's ample proof myriads of these professors have done inestimable damage to the minds of millions of their students over the years!
DON'T YOU KNOW WHO WE ARE????? We are the Liberal Elite. How dare you question us!!! Just shut up and continue to hand us our taxpayer-funded paychecks even though we don't deserve 1/3 of what we are actually earning. Shut up, you underlings, you pee-ons. How dare you question us!!!!
The left remembers what happened to Alger Hiss back in the 1940's and is afraid that this could eliminate their domination of American colleges.
If you think they're going nuts over this, suggest they be required to submit to drug tests.
While this isn't regarding k-12, I thought some of you may find this of interest.
It's not either or friend. Professors are subsidized because they are involved in the business of educating young minds. They should be held to a higher standard, including background checks, not only because of those subsidies, but because they are accountable to the "breeders"(I call them parents) of those young minds.
I like the "higher standards" arguement. Most applications ask you if you have ever been arrested or convicted for anything other than a traffic violation. Anyone answering that question should expect a verification would be run. Even more important is to verify the academic credentials on the resume. Again, a background check makes sense. I agree with nothingnew, who wants these guys held to the same standards as the non-academic world. (And yes, I have had background checks run on me as a condition of employment.)
That's the only positive thing I can think of to say about most college professors.
A Government issued teaching certificate is almost a guarantee of incompetence.
The real reason private schools do better jobs than public schools is that their teachers do not have degrees in education.
So9, I knew someone would allude to that, but, my question remains: what do you do when a professor's conducts violates the code of ethics? Would you want your kid, if your child was a student of such a professor, to have no recourse in an unethical situation?
So9, I knew someone would allude to that, but, my question remains: what do you do when a professor's conduct violates the code of ethics? Would you want your kid, if your child was a student of such a professor, to have no recourse in an unethical situation?
And, as for private schools, there are better and worse private schools, just as there are better and worse public schools. And, while public schools are reluctant to disclose information, private schools are even worse about that. You have a far better chance of finding out something when it happens in a public school environment than a private school environment, even though your chances are still slim in both cases.
He apparently raped quite a few young men, though I don't know if any of his victims were students there. (I say "apparently," since he was never tried on criminal charges. He did settle several civil lawsuits to the tune of millions of dollars, however.)
If they have done something to cause you actual harm, you have a civil tort just like you would have against a non teacher and can sue them.
If they have not caused you actual harm, then they are simply rude, and your recourse, as with any other individual, is to offer to kick their ass.
The problem is TENURE. Once a prof gets tenure, they can do anything they want, short of a felony. I live in Pennsylvania, and public school teachers are tenured after working 2 years and 1 day in the public schools. When tenure is the policy, those that are tenured have lost the motivation to perform to the best of their ability (although not in all cases), and also have protection from losing their job. How many workers in this country have such protection? Fortunately, the number is few, as this would cause our production to fall and our economy to stagnate. But it's an OK policy for those that our teaching our children and college students. And we wonder why our education system is in a shambles...
President Reagan's advice is pertinent: "Trust, but verify."
President Reagan's advice is pertinent: "Trust, but verify."
After seeing some real disasters in hiring in corporations and in churches due to no background checks, I advocate never trust a candidate until their criminal record is checked, credit reports are checked and a few other checks are made.
So, the bottom line is that they are against them because they make them feel bad?
There's also the issue of tenure. But the problem, even with untenured professors, is that professors are often not dismissed or disciplined for political activity in the classroom. They hide behind "academic freedom", which universities are unable to distinguish from classroom behavior.
I agree; we need an infusion of young teacher's with open minds, and also that education is a tough job. However, whether it's a tough job or not, tenure is a bad idea. There are a lot of people who have "tough jobs"; however, that doesn't mean that tenure should be granted to them. As far as I'm concerned, tenure=socialism.