Shift toward faculty/staff equity

Colleges and universities are requiring background checks of new staff members far more often than of their faculty members, but there are signs that trend may be changing.

A limited survey of colleges last year showed that nearly three-quarters of colleges checked for criminal records of newly selected staff members, while about one-quarter made the same checks on new faculty members, according to the survey’s author, Stephanie Hughes, an assistant professor of strategy at Northern Kentucky University and the owner of RiskAware LLC, a company that does background checks.

“I think the No. 1 problem is inconsistent application,” said Hughes. “You go around to universities, and the staff is irritated because they get checked and the faculty doesn’t. You are more liable if you did it in a variable fashion than if you didn’t do it at all.”

Background checks have been a contentious issue on many campuses, where some employees have argued that they are an invasion of privacy.
WSU has just instituted a new policy, effective Nov. 1, to provide for background checks at the voluntary discretion of the authority (department, search committee, etc.) doing the hiring, said Steve DeSoer, executive director of Human Resource Services.

The faculty at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington was opposed to seeing new hires undergo background checks, said William A. Fleming, the human-resources director there. But he and others argued that the faculty had to set a standard. He advocated no background checks on anyone unless they were done on everyone. An agreement was reached, and background checks on all new hires began July 1.

Some states are requiring that all new state employees be subject to the checks. A number of private universities recently have begun requiring background checks of new faculty hires.

Hughes’s survey, conducted in March 2005, was based on responses from 109 institutions.

Hughes said colleges were standardizing their hiring practices as they implement management software. However, she said, it’s not enough, and she fears some will face legal action if they are not routinely performing background checks.

For the complete article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, visit

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