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.
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