University background check policy recommended

By Maggie Sullivan

Many University administrators have questioned whether implementing employee background checks is the right move for the University but Patrick Fitzgerald, Board of Trustees Governance, Personnel, and Ethics Committee Chair said he is confident a policy is necessary.

“I think it’s important in a University where there are lots of different students, employees and faculty members that we do the best to make sure everyone is safe,” he said at the committee’s meeting Thursday.

Fitzgerald, a former prosecutor, went on to dispel the notion that a candidate’s potential criminal record would be an automatic bar to employment at the University.

“One of the major societal problems we have is how we integrate people who have had a brush with the criminal justice system, particularly those who were incarcerated, back into society,” he said. “By adopting a policy with background checks, we are trying to make sure we are aware of all relevant information.”

The University has debated adopting a background check policy for more than two years, said Maureen Parks, associate vice president for human resources.

The background check policy, which the University hopes to launch on Oct. 5, would require all faculty members, specialized faculty, staff members, medical residents and civil service employees to receive a background check. Undergraduate and graduate student employees as well as fellows, volunteers, individuals appointed to non-paid positions and contractors are excluded from the policy.

Parks said she is hopeful the background check policy won’t slow down campus hiring.

“We can make someone a conditional offer of hire, subject to the completion of a background check,” Parks said. “If someone refuses to have a background check or whose criminal record creates unacceptable risk, after review, we can rescind that offer.”

Parks said “unacceptable risk” is subjective to each case.

“If a background check results in a hit, an individual assessment will be conducted,” Parks said. “Just because someone has a conviction doesn’t mean they are automatically excluded from employment at the University.”

The standard background check, she said, will check the nationwide criminal database, a candidate’s social security number and the sex offender registry. Parks said the University will check as far back into a person’s history as possible and only the final candidate for a job position will receive a background check, she said.

Parks said the average cost of each background check is $45. The University hired 4,073 employees last year, which would have totaled $183,285 in background checks.

“The number could go up or it could go down,” Parks said. “If specialized checks are required, it could go up.”

Fitzgerald praised Parks for her hard work on the project and recommended a swift adoption of the policy.

“We want to move this forward, but to entertain any suggestions that come forward,” he said. “It’s important we get a policy in place and have it up and running by Oct. 5.”