Virginia Legislators Consider Background Check Overhauls for Public and Private Colleges

By Michael Klazema on 10/8/2014

Based on Virginia state laws, all college in the state, be they public or private institutions, are required to pass on a list to the Virginia State Police of all the students they admit in any given year. The State Police Department then essentially runs background checks on the new students, cross checking names on each list against Virginia state criminal records and sex offender registries.

For years, this system has been in place and has been mostly successful in weeding out the riff raff from institutions of higher learning situated in Virginia. However, lawmakers are now saying that maybe the State Police name checks aren't enough to keep college campuses safe from criminals and sexual predators.

The call for a review of the college background check system has been inspired by a recent case involving a 32-year-old man who bounced around at various Virginia colleges (and through various sexual assault investigations at those colleges) before dropping out. The man, once a successful football player while in school, has been linked to a rape, a sexual assault, a grand larceny and physical assault case, and even a murder. Recently, the man was arrested and charged with "abduction with intent to defile" in a case involving the September disappearance of a University of Virginia sophomore female. The girl has still not been found.

It's true that much of this defensive lineman's criminal activity emerged after he left school. However, the man also managed to gain admission to both Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and Christopher Newport University. His admission at the second school, and his membership on the school's football team, came after he left the former in the wake of a rape accusation. A second sexual assault accusation soon occurred at Christopher Newport University.

A spokesperson for the State Council on Higher Education has said that more in-depth background checks might have flagged this particular student early on and prevented him from his later criminal activity. In particular, the State Council wants background checks to look for arrests and police investigations as well as actual convictions. The council also recommends background check updates as students progress through their college education.

Of course, employers are not allowed to consider arrests as part of the hiring process. However, colleges are not employers, and admissions managers are not expected to adhere to the background check guidelines laid forth by the EEOC. Therefore, perhaps checks that look for arrests or criminal investigations should be taken into account for college students, especially since most young people don't have convictions yet. It's possible that looking at arrest records would be the best way for colleges to flag dangerous or troubled teens.

It's also worth noting that most college institutions have huge blind spots when it comes to athletes. Too often, schools turn a blind eye to athletes with criminal histories, or at least to athletes with histories of arrests or assault accusations. Sexual assaults and rape run rampant in the world of college sports, where male athletes are almost deified for their ability to win games and make money for their schools. A no-tolerance background check system that keeps tabs on these individuals and their run-ins with police would undoubtedly keep college campuses safer, not just in Virginia, but throughout the entire country.


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