I love how official spokespersons try to slide around issues. Consider the case of Kansas University and background checks.

The Lawrence Journal-World and News reported on October 14, 2007 that there were felons employed at the university. They also reported that “the University does not conduct criminal background checks on most employees.

The University sprang into public relations action. Universities have been very sensitive about security issues since the Virginia Tech shootings.

A University spokesperson, Jill Jess, noted that “the university does review the sex offender registry and asks for voluntary disclosure of previous convictions before offering employment.” Personally, that statement would make me very nervous because everything rests on the expectation that a person with a criminal record will be honest about disclosing it, knowing that the University wouldn’t be checking.

Jess told the paper that “An employee who has a conviction but does not disclose it on the application would be subject to immediate termination.” The question is, how would you find out that they’d lied without doing a background check?

In most cases, that would only happen if they committed another crime and were caught at it. Let’s say a young man was convicted of attacking someone else and that he lied about having a conviction when he applied for employment. At the University that’s all he’d have to do. There’s no rule about letting the University know of a conviction after he’d been employed.

Then, one day, the young man gets angry and attacks someone. That would trigger an investigation and the University would discover both the prior conviction and the lie. It would be too late to do anything preventative. That doesn’t show much concern for the safety of people on campus.

The University can make whatever decision it wants about conducting background investigations. Maybe they’re too expensive or too much trouble. But it’s naive and dangerous to assume that simply asking people if they have a criminal record passes the test of due diligence in hiring.

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