University of Illinois to Begin Following Background Check Policy for New Hires Starting in October

By Michael Klazema on 9/14/2015
Last May, the University of Illinois informed the public that it was in the process of revamping its background check policies for new hires. At the time, the university was only running criminal background screenings on employees who would be working closely with children, finances, healthcare patients, or firearms. Now, after more than a year of working on a new policy, U of I will finally implement background checks for the vast majority of new hires starting in October of this year.

When the Board of Trustees started talking about a new background check policy in May 2014, the clear plan was to implement criminal background checks for all new hires, regardless of position, job responsibility, or pay level. The policy that is going into effect in October mostly adheres to that original goal. According to the State Journal-Register, all prospective professors and other faculty members will be required to submit to background checks, as will other academic professionals and civil service applicants. The background check policy won't apply to all hires, though, as student workers and volunteers will be exempt.

Many have theorized that U of I's decision to develop a new background check policy is connected with a media uproar that occurred in connection to one of their professors last year. Newspapers throughout Illinois seized upon the story of an adjunct professor who had received a felony conviction and served prison time for a 1975 bank robbery. The professor in question also had ties to the Symbionese Liberation Army, a revolutionary group notorious for kidnappings, murders, bank robbery, and other offenses.

In that case, though, the university already knew about the professor's murky history, because he had disclosed it to them already. They decided to hire him regardless, not only because of his considerable accomplishments in the academic world, but also because he had already served his time for the crimes he had committed earlier in his life. Still, the media attacked the university's hiring decision and wondered if the announcement that U of I was pursuing a new background check policy had anything to do with it. It didn't, the school has been in the process of developing this new policy for more than two years now.

In fact, the university has made it clear that they are still willing to give ex-offenders and convicted felons second chances, if they are merited and don't put students or other employees at risk. According to as Associated Press report, one trustee stated that the goal is to make sure "our campuses are safe, not deny second chances to people who have served their time." That distinction is a wise one for U of I to make. Since the school has a clear history of not discriminating against people with dark pasts, it's fair to say that this new policy won't change that.


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