The newly expanded background check policy will be implemented by the Nov. 1 deadline, but suggested revisions for it won't be brought to the U. of I. Board of Trustees until January.
Provost Edward J. Feser told senators at their Oct. 19 meeting that while the timing of the process hasn't been ideal, there is still time for the university to improve the policy before the upcoming faculty hiring season.
"We have not encountered any (tenured faculty employment) cases coming forward that required a background check," Feser said.
He said the concern is finalizing any policy changes before job-offer letters begin to go out in the new year and into spring. Having a uniform and generally agreed-upon policy in place by that time is of paramount importance.
"We want to go into our hiring season prepared," he said.
The board expanded the policy Sept. 10 to include all new hires, though graduate students, intercampus transfers and international job candidates are exempt from the checks. A check will only be made for a position's final candidate.
The senate overwhelmingly supported a proposal at its Sept. 21 meeting to postpone the background check policy, and the board-imposed start date of Oct. 5 was moved to Nov. 1, giving campuses a "grace period" to adopt a process to comply with the policy.
The campus backlash continued at the Oct. 19 senate meeting, as two of its committees announced they had submitted reports on the background check policy and had added a host of suggested changes designed to protect potential candidates.
The introduction to the Equal Opportunity and Inclusion Committee's report lists several reasons why the background check is unfair and even discriminatory, especially to minorities, and why it should be scrapped altogether. The report also raises questions about the ability of the company being used by the university to adequately protect candidate information.
Despite those caveats, the committee report provides several "improvements" designed to protect candidate information and make the process more fair.
Among them, extending the three- to five-day timeline requirement for the company to vet the information and a more open appeals process for candidates who are negatively affected by the check.
Abbas Aminmansour, a senator and professor of architecture, expressed the sentiment of many senators who spoke, saying the board's intent in adopting the policy is unclear.
"It's hard to understand the goal of this policy," he said. "What are we trying to accomplish? The EQ committee says it's discriminatory. If it's discriminatory, I don't want to help make it less discriminatory."
The General University Policy Committee's report doesn't take a stand on whether the policy should be implemented, and in fact states the U. of I.'s background check policy is already more progressive than policies at similar institutions.
Still, the GUP report offers suggestions for process changes, recommending another level of consultation with units once a negative hit comes back, and suggestions for further protecting the information during the process.
The committee reports have been forwarded to Christophe Pierre, the university's vice president for academic affairs, who has convened a committee to consider suggestions from the three campuses and make a recommendation to the board for any changes in the policy at its Jan. 20-21 meeting in Chicago.
Gay Miller, a professor of pathobiology and the chair of the Senate Executive Committee, said she and other campus leaders are members of the committee. She said work has already begun.
"We're meeting weekly and we have already received the reports from these two committees," she said.
Feser said that while the policy's implementation date is inescapable, he feels the campus policy is a "living document" that will change over time. He said many of the suggestions that have come from campus would improve the process.
"We've received a lot of good advice from both committees and from all over campus," he said. "We'd like this to serve as an example and to be held up as a national model."
He said there were more protections built in than comparable policies, and that's because faculty members have been included in the process. He said one example of that is the addition of a 10-day period for candidates to respond to a negative background finding.
Even in the event of a negative hit, he said, the policy gives great leeway to campus hirers to consider the level of the offense, when it was committed and whether it has any bearing on the job for which the candidate is being considered.
Background check information will be vetted by a to-be-appointed campus committee that includes faculty members, administrators and university legal representatives.
"We want to establish the nexus of the job and the crime, and whether it has any bearing on the position being applied for," he said.
Anyone with questions about the policy is urged to contact Elyne Cole, the associate provost for human resources, at 217-333-6677, or Deb Stone, the director of Academic Human Resources, at 217-333-7466. Questions about a specific position or search can be answered by Yulee Kim in Academic Human Resources at 217-333-6747 or Chris Carr in Staff Human Resources at 217-333-2137.