U of I approves revised background check policy
Changes address faculty concerns with new campus safety initiative
January 21, 2016 Tweet this | Share on Facebook
CHICAGO, Ill. — The University of Illinois Board of Trustees on Thursday approved a revised policy requiring background checks for all new faculty, academic professional and civil service employees.
Changes address concerns raised by faculty Senates after trustees adopted the new policy in September to help create a safer environment for students, employees and visitors. Senates on each campus asked the board to revisit the policy, citing concerns over issues such as privacy and whether they are unfair to candidates with criminal backgrounds who have paid their debt to society, which faculty said could have a disproportionate impact on racial minorities.
The revised policy fulfills the University’s obligation to safeguard its campuses while also ensuring opportunities for prospective employees with criminal histories, said Trustee Patrick Fitzgerald, chairman of the board’s Governance, Personnel and Ethics Committee, which reviewed the changes earlier this month.
“This policy was born out of our responsibility to protect our students and our taxpayers, not out of any effort to chill the employment prospects of people with felony records who are moving on with their lives,” said Fitzgerald, a former federal prosecutor. “I’m a big believer in second chances and think we owe it to society to help reintegrate people who have earned the right to put the problems of their past behind them.”
A review of the revised policy by employment law firm Jackson Lewis of Chicago concluded that it complies with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines and with federal and state non-discrimination laws.
When concerns surfaced, President Tim Killeen appointed an ad hoc working group of faculty and administrators representing all three campuses that met regularly through the fall semester to review the policy, consulting extensively with governance bodies such as faculty Senates, their committees and the Urbana-Champaign chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
The working group developed revisions that sharpen the policy’s focus on safety, clear up ambiguities, and distinguish between criminal background checks and other pre-employment background checks. The revisions also address confidentiality and note that the policy will be aligned with the University’s mission and vision, and will be guided by principles supporting workforce diversity and international reputation.
The revised policy also calls for an annual review that will assess costs, changes in the volume and diversity of applicants, job offers withdrawn due to background checks and the number of serious safety issues involving employees to gauge the impact of the policy.
“This revised policy is significantly improved,” said Christophe Pierre, vice president for academic affairs and chair of the working group. “It addresses the concerns and suggestions that were expressed by a number of faculty, and I believe it will contribute to the safety of our students and employees. I wish to thank all my working group colleagues for their tremendous dedication and efforts, and for making this process a successful case study in shared governance.”
The University Senates Conference (USC), a group composed of faculty leaders from all three campuses that advises the president and trustees, also praised the collaborative effort that developed the revised policy.
“This process resulted in an improved policy, and in our view it is an exemplar of how shared governance should work,” USC Chair Nicholas C. Burbules wrote in a letter to Killeen.
Trustees originally approved the policy in September, expanding criminal background checks to the hiring of all new employees. Previously, those checks had only been required in security-sensitive positions or for positions that fall under the university’s existing protection of minors policy. The background check policy is complemented by implementation guidelines and procedures developed by each campus and University Administration, which conform to the parameters established in the policy.
Under the policy and its implementation guidelines, there is no list of crimes that automatically disqualifies someone from employment. If checks yield a criminal conviction, it is weighed against a variety of factors, including how long ago it occurred, the person’s age at the time, their employment history, rehabilitation efforts since the offense, the nature of the crime and whether the conviction relates to the job in question.
Criminal background checks will examine national, state and local criminal records, the National Sex Offender Registry and will verify Social Security numbers. Certain jobs may require other pre-employment background checks, such as educational and employment history, which have already been in place at the University.
Each campus will utilize processes to protect the privacy of candidates’ background information and to clarify who may be consulted when evaluating information.
Checks are only done after job offers are made and accepted contingent upon successful completion of the background check, and appointments will not be sent to the Board of Trustees for approval until checks are completed. In extraordinary circumstances, employees could begin work pending a background check, under the condition that the offer could be rescinded if the check nets concerns.
Faculty Senates in Chicago and Springfield have endorsed the revised policy. The Urbana-Champaign Senate approved a resolution rejecting the policy, citing continued concerns over potential negative impacts.
University officials spent nearly two years developing the new policy, which applies to all new faculty members, academic professionals and civil service employees. The policy does not cover undergraduate and graduate student workers, volunteers, contractors or people appointed to non-paying positions, unless they are assigned a security sensitive position or fall under the existing protection of minors policy.
Trustees approved the appointment of longtime University administrator Dedra “DeeDee” Williams as Secretary of the Board of Trustees and of the University.
Williams began her new duties Jan. 16 to allow an overlapping transition period with Susan M. Kies, who is retiring June 30 after nearly five years as secretary. In her new position, Williams will be a University officer with major, wide-ranging responsibilities that include planning for Board and Board committee meetings; maintaining the minutes, records and major documents of the Board; responding to requests from the public; and providing assistance and advice to other administrators, including the president.
She joined the U of I in 1989 and served for nearly 23 years within various roles at the College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign, culminating as associate dean for administration, Since 2012, she has served as assistant vice president for academic affairs, helping lead a unit in the central University Administration that reports to the president and works closely with the three campuses to shape academic programs and priorities.
Williams earned her master’s degree in higher education administration from the Urbana-Champaign campus in 1999. She received her bachelor’s degree in medical technology from Eastern Illinois University.
The board also approved the appointment of Susan Poser as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, effective Feb. 1.
Poser, who is currently dean and a professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law, will serve as UIC’s chief academic and operating officer and as a senior advisor to Chancellor Michael Amiridis on matters of academic policy, enrollment management and strategic and resource planning.
She joined the Nebraska faculty in 1999 and has been dean of the College of Law since 2010. Since 2005, she also has served as director of the Robert J. Kutak Center for the Teaching & Study of Applied Ethics, a multidisciplinary resource for campus research and teaching about ethics and ethical decision-making. She was chief of staff and associate to the chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 2007 to 2010, working on a wide variety of campus issues and policies, including those related to academics, enrollment management, alumni relations and fundraising.
Poser received her bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College with honors in ancient Greek and political science. She earned her Ph.D. in jurisprudence and social policy and her law degree from the University of California, Berkeley. After law school, she clerked for Chief Judge Dolores K. Sloviter in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and practiced law in Philadelphia before moving to Nebraska to begin her academic career.
She succeeds longtime UIC administrator Eric A. ‘Rick’ Gislason, who has served as interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs since August 2014.
The board also approved a two-year contract with Bill Cubit as head football coach at UIUC. Cubit and the university announced the deal on Nov. 28, the day of last season’s final game against Northwestern, pending board approval.
Cubit led the Illini to a 5-7 record in 2015 after being named interim head coach when Tim Beckman was dismissed a week before the season began.
He joined the Illini staff as offensive coordinator in 2013 and earlier served as head coach at Widener University, compiling a 34-18-1 record from 1992-96, and at Western Michigan University, where his teams were 51-46 from 2005-12.
The University of Illinois is a world leader in research and discovery, the largest educational institution in the state with more than 80,000 students, more than 24,000 faculty and staff, and campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. The U of I awards more than 20,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees annually.
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