University of Wisconsin System Considering Background Checks for Students

By Michael Klazema on 2/14/2017
Per a report from WBKT-TV—a television news station based in La Crosse, Wisconsin—the University of Wisconsin System may add a background check step for students as well as administrators.

The UW System consists of 26 higher education institutions: 13 universities and 13 two-year colleges. The two biggest universities in the system are the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

At UW-Madison, student Daniel Dropik attempted to launch a white nationalist organization on campus. Dropik’s attempt led to protests around the campus. It also led to the discovery of Dropik’s criminal record. Per WBKT-TV, Dropik was charged and convicted on two arson counts in 2005. The 33-year-old served prison time for the convictions, both of which involved setting fire to predominantly black churches.

Per coverage, the argument among the students and protesters that are calling for student background checks is that people like Dropik pose a threat to other people on campus. By screening students with background checks, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other schools in the UW System would improve campus and community safety, they argue.

On the other side, people like Joe Gow—who serves as Chancellor for the UW-La Crosse campus—are worried that a student background check policy could disqualify or scare away applicants who deserve second chances. Gow said he was concerned about where UW schools would choose to draw the line between crimes that merit disqualification and those that don’t.

Per Criminal Watch Dog, 66.4% of colleges collect criminal background information from their applicants, but only 20% run criminal background checks. Most colleges that do consider criminal information ask students to disclose previous criminal convictions on their applications. The schools in the UW System don’t collect criminal history information at all, reports explained.

While the protests surrounding Dropik and his white nationalist group have brought the debate to the forefront, Gow claims that the UW System administration has been thinking about adding extra screening steps for a while.


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