College Background Checks

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Who is lurking among your Student Body?
“Background Checks for Students”

Background checks are conducted to obtain a variety of types of information -- criminal records, credit histories, previous residences, job credentials. Some feel that the extent to which the background check should be depends on the position. For example, it makes little sense, on the one hand, to investigate the credit history of an Anthropology professor. On the other hand, failing to investigate the background of a school psychologist thoroughly could expose your institution to legal liability, adverse publicity, and loss of trust within the community. The belief is that you should link the type of check to the actual job responsibilities of each person (Der Werf, 2006). This notion is of great concern and yields the potential for grave disaster, especially in regards to the legal issues concerning colleges and universities. Criminal background checks (CBC), however, are complicated because records are decentralized and maintained at the federal, state, and county levels. Your institution may need to check the records in each state and county in which a person has lived over the past five to 10 years. A 2004 survey by the Society for Human Resources Management found a substantial increase since 1996 in the number of employers performing various background checks on potential employees (Hughes et. al., 2007). The popularity of such checks is growing in part because electronic-data-collection techniques make it quicker and easier to find out information about current and prospective employees. Also, “high-dollar verdicts against organizations and institutions for negligently hiring employees have focused employers on potential liability. Criminal-background checks are becoming a common element of faculty and administrative searches” (Der Werf, 2006 pg.33). Many state, and an increasing number of private colleges, are requiring background checks prior to or as part of job offers. A certain amount of griping has ensued because of it. One of the clearest remnants of academe’s history as a “gentleman’s profession” is the idea that, as academics and holders of advanced degrees, that they are somehow above suspicion, and thus requiring a background check is insulting and degrades the profession. That sentiment is certainly understandable, as the presence of a background check is prima facie evidence that candidates are not being taken at their word (Hughes et. al., 2007). The irony, of course, is that only those whose word is not good get caught by a background check. It’s become to prevalent in past years, impostors have gotten an academic job (easily avoided by the now almost-universal requirement for official transcripts sent directly to the employing institution) or where someone with a criminal record has been hired. “In today’s controversial atmosphere—and, more important, as part of our obligation to students, parents, and other constituencies—transcripts but most of all background checks are a fair way to avoid potential liability risk” (Hughes et. al., 2008 pg.14). The general understanding when it comes to institutional management and liability of risk is to either avoid or control. Because of the abstract nature revolving around institutional matters, it’s more plausible for an institution to seek to control liability risk verses avoiding them entirely (Kaplin & Lee, 2009). Therefore, the goal of an institution is to reduce the frequency or severity of potential exposure to liability—mainly by conducting thorough investigation of faculty and staff members; its primary responsibility it to the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of the students right? But what about protecting students from themselves or others including faculty and staff members? Should institutions of higher learning implement background-checks for students prior to admissions?

The issue is safety:
One university had a student who had charges...
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