The Urbana-Champaign Senate voiced its disapproval Dec. 7 for the university's new criminal background check policy, even as campus administrators continue their work to implement it.
The policy is the result of a U. of I. Board of Trustees directive in September to extend background checks to all new employees, not just those in security-sensitive areas.
In October, senators voted to request that the board of trustees postpone the implementation of the policy, leading to a board-approved "grace period" to early November that allowed the campuses to offer suggestions for improving the policy's language.
Those suggestions have been funneled to an ad hoc committee led by Christophe Pierre, the university's vice president for academic affairs, who is expected to submit a revised policy document for consideration at the Jan. 21 board meeting.
The Dec. 7 senate measure decrying the policy passed 55-35.
Edward Feser, the interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, said that while faculty members continue to have concerns over the need for the board-ordered policy, the campus's implementation procedures have benefited significantly from extensive campus input.
He said he believes the procedures exceed the specific implementation guidelines offered by the American Association of University Professors.
The process calls for a background check after a candidate accepts a contingent offer. The candidate authorizes the background check, and is given a copy of the final report and the opportunity to correct it.
Feser said there is no "automatic bar" for a criminal background "hit," because each case will have an individualized assessment conducted by a committee comprising university human resources, legal staff and faculty members.
That committee will advise the provost on whether the candidate's conviction history has any direct bearing on the job for which he or she is being considered. All of the background information will be retained separately through the committee, but not as part of the employee's employment file.
If a negative hit does show up on the background check, the committee would offer its advice to the provost, who would consult with the appropriate college dean.
Feser said the committee would collect statistics on its work and the process would be reviewed regularly. He said those results would be shared with the senate.
Erik McDuffie, a professor of African American Studies, said he voted against the policy because, even with good intentions, it can be used in a discriminatory fashion.
He said the policy on its face is discriminatory because of the high percentage of African-Americans and other minorities who are incarcerated.
"It's a slippery slope," he said, "that will lead to unintended consequences. We should be focusing on anti-racist policies; this conversation is taking us down the wrong path."