U of Illinois Approves Background Check Policy for Professors

January 22, 2016

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees on Thursday approved a revised policy requiring criminal background checks for new employees, including faculty members. The new policy addresses concerns about privacy and fairness raised by faculty members on various campuses about a previous policy approved by the board in September. That policy had been prompted in part by the revelation that the Urbana-Champaign campus hired James Kilgore, an ex-convict and former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, as an adjunct instructor of global studies and urban planning.

While Kilgore had shared his record with the university and it hired him anyway, local media reports sparked backlash against that decision and questions about the university’s background check policy for all faculty members (it didn’t have one). That resulted in the adoption of the older policy, which some said was too vague, didn’t address issues of rehabilitation and repaying one’s debt to society, and could have a disproportionate impact on minority applicants.

A working group of faculty and administrators worked to review the policy, consulting with faculty governance bodies. The revisions seek to put a bigger focus on campus safety and distinguish between criminal background checks and other kinds of checks, as well as on supporting workforce diversity. Under the new policy, there is no list of crimes that automatically disqualify someone from employment. Checks yielding criminal records will be weighed against a variety of factors, such as one’s age at the time of the crime and employment record since. Checks are only done after job offers are made, contingent upon a successful result.

The Urbana-Champaign Faculty Senate approved a resolution rejecting the policy, citing residual concerns.

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