Universities look at in-depth background-checking system

The University of Missouri now checks the backgrounds of all new faculty hires.

Mike Rose

Do new faculty hires need to have criminal background checks? A different “U of M” recently decided they did.

The University of Missouri implemented a new policy Oct. 1, requiring background checks of all new faculty hires across its four campuses. The University of Minnesota does not require across-the-board faculty background checks. Both universities check staff hires.

The new policy has raised some questions regarding academic freedom of faculty.

Frank Schmidt, chairman of the University of Missouri faculty council, said he and other faculty members were approaching the new policy with some suspicion.

He said a main concern of his was whether the administration would spend time determining the relevance of negative checks or if they’d simply dismiss anyone with a red flag.

“The worry of many people is that various administrators won’t bother (considering circumstances),” Schmidt said.

Schmidt also said he was worried about possible inaccuracies in the reports and the overall cost. Schmidt estimated a background check costs $50 per hire.

University philosophy professor William Hanson shared similar concern.

“What problem is this designed to solve?” he said. “It doesn’t sound like a good plan to me.”

Hanson, who has been teaching at the University for 41 years, said he has never had to undergo a criminal background check as a professor. He said the criteria for being hired as a professor has always been academic credentials.

Karen Touzeau, assistant vice chancellor of human resource services at the University of Missouri, told the Associated Press the new policy will ensure all employees at the university will be treated equally.

The policy will check applicants after they have been offered a job but before they begin work, according to an e-mail sent by Touzeau to various department heads.

The checks are being considered national criminal background checks and will be performed by Validity Screening Solutions of Kansas City, Mo.

The University does not typically check the criminal backgrounds of new faculty hires.

Karen Linquist, senior office supervisor in the University’s Office of Human Resources, said faculty might be checked if they had to perform a job dealing with hazardous or sensitive material.

She said checks of staff members are typically decided the same way. For example, she said someone handling money at the Bursar’s Office would be checked.

The University also screens senior administrators before hiring them. This includes positions such as University president, department dean and provost.

According to the Office of Human Resources Web site, these checks are used to reduce the risk of making an inappropriate hire or being unaware of important information regarding new hires.

Linquist said the University uses a standard background check, which has been provided by the California-based Hire Right Incorporated for the past two years. Previously, Verifications Incorporated provided these services.

The check includes a social security number trace, federal and county criminal record lookups, a sex offender registry check, an education history check and an employment history check going back seven years, Linquist said.

As far as handling the information received from a check, Linquist said University

administrators discuss whether incriminating information is relevant to particular applicants.

For example, she said, speeding tickets would not be a factor in those jobs that do not require driving during work.

“If it’s not in their job to do, then it’s not an issue,” Linquist said.