The current University review of Penn's hiring and admissions practices will likely result in all faculty, students and staff being mandated to self-disclose any prior convictions, and more-stringent background checks are also in the works, officials said this week.
Earlier this month, convicted sex felon and Economics graduate student Kurt Mitman was found to be commuting to campus from jail in Bucks County, which also led to the discovery of two employees who had been hired without the University's knowledge of their previous sex convictions.
Provost Ronald Daniels said that an ongoing revision of hiring and admissions practices will focus upon repairing inconsistencies and deficiencies in criminal background reporting requirements for faculty, staff and students.
Currently, Vice President for Human Resources Jack Heuer said most - but not all - staff positions at the University require a background check, which is completed by a third-party company called Avert once the University is seriously considering hiring the individual. Heuer would not specify which staff positions currently must undergo background checks.
But Daniels said there are no background checks or self-disclosure requirements at all for faculty, including the faculty masters that live in student residences - meaning that the University does not inquire about the criminal background of professors who interact with students both in the classroom and the college houses on a regular basis.
A possible solution, he said, would be a standard of mandatory self-disclosure for all faculty, students and staff - with more proactive measures taken for special cases.
"We may take the view that one requires more than [self-disclosure] in some circumstances," Daniels said, in which case University officials would conduct "an independent criminal background check."
Daniels did not specify which circumstances would warrant a background check.
Director of Strategic Projects for the Provost's Office Lynne Hunter said University officials do not seek to establish a single set of standards for criminal background disclosure across faculty, staff and student constituencies in the future, despite the apparent inconsistencies in the current procedures.
Rather, she said, information gathered from the ongoing review process would be used to "identify relevant differences in the best practices for each of these groups."
Just as important as revising the system for criminal background reporting at the University, Daniels said, is determining how best to use the information that background reports gather.
Daniels said he and other officials would reexamine the way information gathered from background checks is used, in order to "ensure that the information is used in a manner that is attentive to security concerns, attentive to the need to have due regard to the qualifications and the job requirements of individuals and also [attentive to] the concern over unwarranted stigmatization."
Heuer said that no matter the changes called for by University officials, the rights and dignity of applicants - regardless of criminal background - will always be top priority.
"I think we've got a duty to the institution, but we've also got a duty to the individual," he said.
"The law makes it clear that you can't discriminate" against applicants on the basis of their criminal record, Heuer added.Comments powered by Disqus
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