Oklahoma State University recently adopted a new employee background check policy and faculty members aren’t too pleased about it.
According to a report from The O’Colly, the university’s student newspaper, the new policy marks the first time Oklahoma State University has vetted professors and other faculty members in this fashion. In the past, the university operated mostly on an honor system. OSU would ask faculty members on their job applications if they had any felony convictions. If candidates answered “No,” then the university took them at their word.
That policy changed in 2016 when Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued an executive order banning the box for all public employers. The order forced OSU to remove questions about criminal history from all job applications, including faculty applications. Jamie Payne, OSU’s Vice President of Human Resources, said the ban the box order left the university with no choice but to start running background checks. Payne told The O’Colly given the amount of time professors spend with students—some of whom are still minors—the university has no choice but to vet those hires.
Honor systems are notoriously ineffective without background checks to back them up. Simply put, it’s easy for applicants to lie about their history if there is no way for the employer to verify claims made on the application or resume. At backgroundchecks.com, we always recommend a “trust but verify” approach. Assume candidates are telling the truth, but double check with criminal history searches and verification checks.
After the state ban the box order went into effect, OSU briefed colleges on the law and explained how it would impact hiring. At the time, many colleges within the university decided to start requiring background checks for faculty hires. There wasn’t a university-wide policy, and each college would review the background checks and make decisions individually.
Per reports, going forward, there will be a university-wide policy that requires background checks for all new faculty hires regardless of college or department. All checks will be processed through HR. If there are convictions on the background check, the HR department notifies OSU Provost Gary Sandefur as well the dean of the college where the hire is taking place. Sandefur and the relevant dean have the final say in whether a candidate is disqualified. Hiring committees and department heads will never see the background check reports.
Some faculty members think the policy is too broad and restrictive. One professor told The O’Cally he worries the background checks will have a disparate impact on minority candidates and might deter qualified professionals from applying for jobs at OSU. The same professor pointed out the biggest threats on college campuses tend to be young male students, not faculty members. However, with the recent fallout from scandals at MSU, it’s become clear that not all university faculty members are safe or trustworthy, either.
Sandefur told The O’Colly the university will be careful to consider each background check report on a case-by-case basis. Offenses that date back many years or don’t have any relevance to the position at hand will usually not be held against candidates. For instance, if the university finds a DUI conviction but the candidate isn’t applying for a job that involves driving students around campus, it likely wouldn’t be considered a disqualifying offense.
So far, OSU has conducted about 15,000 faculty background checks. Payne said that of those checks, only about 10 led to a candidate being disqualified from job consideration.