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Checking the background of prospective applicants and employees is turning into a more common practice at Penn.

The University has recently undertaken a critical examination of current background disclosure requirements for new hires and graduate-student applicants in the wake of January's discovery that Economics graduate student Kurt Mitman was a convicted sex felon still in jail, and that two other convicted sex felons were working at Penn.

But other institutions have demonstrated a rising interest in keeping their eye on the criminal background of student applicants, as well.

Which is why, beginning with the Class of 2011, the Common Application will include a mandatory "discipline question," according to Common App Executive Director Rob Killion.

The question will ask applicants if they have ever been disciplined by their school or if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor or felony.

If a student answers "yes" to either question, he or she must attach a sheet of paper to the application explaining the date and circumstances of the incident.

The background disclosure question "was one of the two most commonly requested items our members requested from every year," Killion wrote in an e-mail.

He added that the new question would also serve as a response to "reports that applicants occasionally choose the Common App over an institutional app to avoid answering the discipline question on the institutional" application.

Catherine Bath, executive director of Security on Campus, commended the addition of the "discipline question."

"Why not know if you have a loose cannon on your campus?" Bath said.

And applicants with criminal backgrounds benefit too, Bath said, because they will know better than to try something illegal since they've already been "red-flagged."

But measures like the "discipline question" might not be without consequence, Bath said; she explained that she is concerned with how a school might view this information once it's disclosed.

As for concerns about privacy, Killion has assured that the new question, like virtually all others on the Common App, is confidential.

Penn switched to the Common App this year for the first time, though applicants can still currently choose to use Penn's own application, which already has a criminal background question, instead.

Associate Provost Andy Binns declined to comment on the new question or how it might influence the direction that University officials take as they revise hiring and admissions policies.

Binns would only say that "there are a number of important questions that are being considered" as the University continues its review of its hiring and admissions practices.

There is currently no timetable for completion of the review.

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