Universities Face Questions and Concerns About Faculty Background Check Requirements

By Michael Klazema on 4/19/2018

The Pennsylvania state legislature took up the question of how to protect students from potential predators in 2014. At that time, they passed a law broadly requiring all school employees to undergo a background check at 30-month intervals. The vague language of the law led to a follow-up half a year later intended to clarify the policy for universities, restricting background checks to faculty members who work with children. 

Legal Challenges

Per recent reports, disagreements over implementation have led to legal challenges by APSCUF, the university faculty union. The state's university system continued to require background checks for faculty that the law would have otherwise exempted, including those who teach introductory level courses. The union argued this was an incorrect interpretation and an example of wasteful spending. Introductory classes, they claimed, contain adult students taught by adults, and thus the risk and need for a faculty background check are minimal. 

APSCUF won an incomplete victory: the state Commonwealth Court ruled background checks must be a negotiable contract item for exempt employees. The union expects the state to appeal in its bid to continue widespread background checks in the name of safety. However, recent incidents at the University of Rochester in New York indicate the risk on university campuses is not limited to minors.

EEOC Complaints

At the U of R, 11 employees filed complaints with the EEOC over the conduct of professor Florian Jaeger, alleging he abused his position to manipulate students into inappropriate sexual relationships. Others alleged bullying, harassment, and other bad behavior. An independent investigator hired by the university found no violations of university policy, and the school reinstated Jaeger despite the complainants’ protests. While an initial background check may not have revealed a potential problem, it is one case in which adult students felt they were at risk. 

Background checks for all

Oklahoma State University has taken an executive order by the state's governor meant to expand opportunities to require background checks for all prospective faculty. Gov. Mary Fallin ordered the implementation of ban the box regulation prohibiting employers from asking about criminal histories on an initial application. OSU, in the process of amending its hiring processes, chose to require background checks for all incoming applicants, according to The O'Colly. 

Their reasoning: since they cannot ask about an applicant's history, they will find out on their own by using a third party's criminal background check service, like those offered by Some OSU faculty object to this change in policy, which includes checking sex offender registries and, in some cases, a credit check. With the policy's focus on felonies, staff worry it will discourage rehabilitated felons from applying altogether. As in Pennsylvania, there were stated concerns about the long-term cost and effectiveness of the checks.

Should school faculty be required to undergo background checks? Determining the answer is proving difficult for many institutions, based on both the patchwork of legislation in place around the country and pushback from faculty members. In the wake of scandals and incidents in which students were harmed, there is a growing consensus among educators that steps must be taken. provides a wide range of products and services that can contribute to an educational employer's efforts to conduct due diligence and strengthen efforts to make safe choices throughout the hiring process.

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