Current faculty and staff, as well as applicants to the College of William and Mary, are now subject to a stricter background check policy, instituted last October and now under review.
According to the policy, every person holding a job position at the College is eligible for a background check except “adjunct and other part-time, non-tenure eligible faculty positions; graduate research fellows, teaching assistants, resident assistants, and other temporary student works; and volunteers.” No faculty member will be excluded from background checks.
When the background check policy change was being considered in Sept. 2011, College leaders including Provost Michael Halleran and William and Mary Police Chief Challis at the time cited a greater societal trend toward tightening college security as motivation behind the policy change. Some College incidents also served as motivating factors. Former economics professor Justin May pled guilty to child pornography charges in October 2010 and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison on February 3.
“Background checks are aimed at prevention — preventing the university from hiring someone whose criminal history indicates past behavior, which, if repeated, would be incompatible with the duties of the position or the university’s responsibility to provide a safe and secure campus,” Vice President for Administration Ann Martin said in an email.
Depending on the job position, the College may also review a candidate’s driving or credit record, drug screening and degree verification.
“The candidate is informed if relevant information is discovered, and is given an opportunity to respond; among other things, this avoids denying employment to someone whose background check has brought up information about someone with the same name, for example,” Provost Michael Halleran said in an email. “The information discovered is considered carefully, bearing in mind the nature of the position, the nature of the severity of the offense, when it occurred and other relevant information.”
According to the policy, the candidate’s response is an informal process, designed to keep administrators from making decisions based on incorrect information.
All candidates also undergo a CP Clear check, runs the candidate through the National Sex Offender Registry. Those in sensitive positions undergo fingerprint checks, which check against the Virginia State Police and the FBI.
“The benefit of CP Clear is that we do not have to have the person present, as we have to for a fingerprint check, to complete the process,” Challis said in an email.
A sensitive position is currently defined as a “position designated by the university as directly responsible for the healthy, safety and welfare of the general populace or protection of critical infrastructures,” but the definition may change.
“[The] change currently being contemplated … which would categorize individuals whose jobs involve substantial interaction with or access to minors as holding ‘sensitive positions’ and thus subject to the fingerprint-based check. Whether this change will be made, and the exact wording, has yet to be determined,” University Compliance and Policy Officer Kiersten Boyce said in an email.
CP Clear and fingerprint checks can run from $13 to $27 each.
“While there is a cost to conducting background checks, they pale when compared to the cost of not doing them,” Challis said in an email.
According to Halleran, no faculty member last year was excluded due to the results of a background check.