June 3rd, 2014 | Sterling

New Trends for Background Screening in Universities

New Trends for Background Screening in Universities | SterlingBackcheck

Four years ago, it was common for teachers and other staff to receive a job at a university without first conducting a pre-employment background screen; however with some big scandals highlighted in the media, big changes are being made to protect students, other faculty and the community – including minors.

Scandals in the Locker Room

The Penn State scandal quickly became a catalyst for more standard and stringent background screening policies aimed to protect minors. Jerry Sandusky, a Penn State football coach, was caught in the locker room in a compromising position with a minor. Once alerted of the indiscretion, Penn State officials purportedly chose to handle the situation internally rather than alert law enforcement. This decision came under scrutiny when an official investigation was launched.

As a result of this scandal, many universities started to develop a screening policy for pre-employment purposes, along with screening their current employees. George Washington University’s Provost Steven Lerman said he has removed several members of his faculty after discovering their past sexual offenses. “Had we done [a background] check, most people would have agreed we never should have hired that individual.”

Convicted Criminals in the Lecture Hall

No one wants to believe that their staff can be dishonest or dangerous, but waiting for a scandal to create a standard background screening policy can yield risky results. The University of Illinois discovered the importance of an all-encompassing screening policy when Champaign News-Gazette released the chilling details of one of their teacher’s pasts.

The University of Illinois hired James Kilgore as a volunteer in 2009. He was later offered a teaching contract. Since background screens are not required for volunteers, Kilgore was promoted and began lecturing students with no pre-employment screen.

The breaking news, released in August 2013, unveiled Kilgore’s past as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a radical group formed in Berkeley, CA, who was not opposed to kidnapping, use of violence and other extreme measures to make their point. Because the university failed to conduct a pre-employment background check, they were unaware that Kilgore had been arrested in 2002, and then sentenced to six years in prison for falsification of a passport application, possession of an explosive device and second-degree murder. Kilgore was hired by the university during the year he was released from prison.

Policy Check – Why Wait?

Developing a consistent screening policy in universities can be hard with giant campuses split between different departments, but here are some tips to creating a transparent background screening policy:

  • Document all policies: When your organization is split between different departments, it can be difficult to make sure your policies are consistent. By clearly documenting the pre-hire procedures, there is less room for error in the hiring process.
  • Use a NAPBS accredited firm: The National Association of Professional Background Screeners has created a rigorous accreditation process. Only organizations who meet the high operational standards achieve accreditation.
  • Screen volunteers, teachers, coaches and all other staff: Teachers are not the only staff members who come into contact with the students and community. By screening everyone who works for and represents your organization, you lessen the risk of hazardous events.

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