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Thursday, July 18, 2013

UW Applications Will Now Ask Students About Criminal History

Posted by on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 1:32 PM

For the first time, the application to attend the University of Washington is asking would-be students some controversial new questions: Have you ever been convicted of a violent felony offense, are any such charges pending, and are you a registered sex offender? A follow-up question on the application asks, for anyone who answers yes to one of the first questions, "why this information should not be a cause for concern to the safety to the university."

Applicants who answer yes could be denied entry to the school, says UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce.

Cauce acknowledges the policy may have problems, but she says the questions are narrowly tailored to identify applicants who may endanger people on campus. Critics say the new scrutiny responds to a problem that doesn't exist and ultimately undermines the corrections process. They say criminals who served their time should be able to get an education without onerous hurdles placed in their way.

For her part, Cauce says the new application questions are in response to an article last year in the Seattle Times, which reported that two level-three sex offenders, convicted of molesting and raping children respectively, were enrolled at the school. Cauce explains that "it was very scary to our students," parents raised concerns, and it "made us think about our policies." They looked at other major universities in Washington—Western Washington and Washington State University—which ask applicants a variety of questions about their criminal history.

"For a narrow band of offenses, we want to take a second look," says Cause. Violent felonies, under federal law, include everything from bank robberies, to murder, to crimes against children and sexual assaults. In Virgina, some forms of burglary fall into the category.

Did the two sex offenders cause any problems? "To the best of my understanding, they did well here," Cauce says."They completed their degrees without incident." But she says generally, the question targets those who "are considered to be at high risk of re-offending."

Critics aren't convinced. Sean Johnson, a UW sophomore who helped start a group called Huskies for Fairness, says the policy "can only serve to widen the gap in educational racial disparities." He adds, "There is no evidence to substantiate the idea that including criminal background questions on university applications reduces crime on campus or increases campus safety." A petition to remove the questions from UW applications has garnered more than 3,600 signatures.

The change comes as Seattle has moved in the opposite direction. In June, the city made criminal record questions illegal in the first stage of hiring processes, so that convicts face one less barrier to employment.

I pressed Cauce on whether the policy change is based on anything more than the one article about two sex offenders who didn't cause any problems—other incidents or crime statistics. She had no other explanation.

She suggested this policy could even serve as an incentive for people in jail to "turn their lives around" by participating in education programs, because UW will look upon that favorably. "I have no intention or desire to eliminate those with such histories when they are committed to rehabilitation," Cauce wrote in a response to the petitioners.

"If we deny someone for this reason, we'll let them know. And they will be allowed to petition," she told me. Cauce noted that she's worked closely with students who are ex-offenders, and she says UW is proud of "being a place where someone can change their life."

To ask the questions critics are raising: Doesn't this policy force people who've fulfilled their sentences but no longer have legal representation (or who've only been charged but not convicted) to defend themselves all over again?

"I'm not telling you there are no problems with it," she acknowledged. "I'd be a liar if that was the case. If the negatives outweigh the positives, we'll revisit."


Comments (18) RSS

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Nothing about Detroit?

Democraps and unions destroy everything they infest.
Posted by Financial Ruin. coming soon to a city near you... on July 18, 2013 at 1:49 PM · Report this
UW is adding these questions as the result of a moral panic. No effort to create it after any of the huge number of recent mass shootings, but let one person suggest that sometimes pedophiles are capable of holding thoughts in their heads other than raping children (sometimes, they like to do this in the presence of other adults!) and, well, we can't have that. Because it is the job of the university to punish pedophiles.

Now, if it had followed up the initial article with an institutional research study which showed that this screening process would have reduced the number of violent incidents by students (say, most the people who threatened their teachers or battered their girlfriends on campus already had prior convictions - because middle class white guys who rape their girlfriends in high school are arrested at high rates, as we all know), then maybe it would make sense. But it didn't.
Posted by sahara29 on July 18, 2013 at 1:49 PM · Report this
Fnarf 3
Will this be applied to the football team as well? That's how most of the felons make their way into the university -- they're invited there.

But it is stupid to deny college to former convicts, because you're actually increasing the chances that they will reoffend by excluding them from society. If you're not prepared to kill them or imprison them forever you have provide an open possibility of reintegrating into society. This rule makes us all less safe, not more.
Posted by Fnarf on July 18, 2013 at 2:10 PM · Report this
Seattle Times strikes again. It excels at fear-mongering and highlighting low-incidence, high-profile events (2 registered sex offenders in attendance at UW) to create a non-issue.

Let's just expand the civil commitment laws, shall we, to include anyone who ever had a record. Let's place everyone at McNeil Island based on fears of what they MIGHT do and create a city of social lepers at tax payer expense. What an illusion of protection. I can see the ST leading the charge, hoping for another self-congratulatory award given by clueless peers.

These UW students would have been monitored by the county probation department if they were Level 3.

@3 is right: if former felons (and yes, that includes the dreaded sex offender label) have to hide out on the fringes of our world, expect increased recidivism.

Posted by Fizgig on July 18, 2013 at 2:29 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 5
So long as the football team answers honestly.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 18, 2013 at 2:57 PM · Report this
pragmatic 6
Well, since the application fee will probably include a background check now, it seems you might as well be honest about what your background is.

I honestly don't see a problem with disclosing your criminal background. Employers ask these questions, and definitely do background checks to verify your honesty and history, so I don't see a problem with higher education engaging in the same process.

I understand the worry: one mistake in your past preventing any good in your future. In that case, perhaps we need a process similar to civil rights re-enfranchisement to felons with respect to employability?
Posted by pragmatic on July 18, 2013 at 3:27 PM · Report this
pragmatic 7
@3 Maybe it does, but campus violence is becoming a bigger issue, especially as college campuses grow in both size and density. I don't believe in denying people their rights to improve themselves ("The Pursuit of Happiness" from the Declaration of Independence) but since safety is usually the biggest concern on a college campus that criminally violent history is an important thing to check against for people on your campus.
Posted by pragmatic on July 18, 2013 at 3:34 PM · Report this
"can only serve to widen the gap in educational racial disparities."

UW is 30% Asian. Pretty sure UW is diverse enough unless Asians don't count.
Posted by Rapists Rights! on July 18, 2013 at 4:34 PM · Report this
"So long as the football team answers honestly."

I believe that will "only serve to widen the gap in educational racial disparities."
Posted by Hoosier'd on July 18, 2013 at 4:39 PM · Report this
"Will this be applied to the football team as well? "

No way, that would "only serve to widen the gap in educational racial disparities."
Posted by Rapists' Rights! on July 18, 2013 at 4:43 PM · Report this
care bear 11
@3 I'm pretty sure most college football players commit felonies after they've been admitted.
Posted by care bear on July 18, 2013 at 6:29 PM · Report this
Good thing Fnarf is always here to remind us to watch out for those darkies on the football and basketball teams!
Posted by Reader01 on July 18, 2013 at 7:27 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 13
@11 before and after. Just ask the Ducks.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 19, 2013 at 1:06 AM · Report this
mr. herriman 14
i posted that article to facebook when it first appeared, and made the argument that they should not have been outed and posed no increased risk to the student body based on the particular crimes that they had committed. (the students were at far greater risk from the date/acquaintance rapists on campus that had not yet been caught, that the sex offender registry can be misleading, they were far more likely to reoffend if we continue to marginalize them, they'd paid their debt, the (un)constitutionality of the special commitment center vs if that's where we are going to treat them like they belong, then why aren't they there? etc etc.) i was uniformly put through the ringer as being soft on pedophiles, not caring about student safety, the pedos had zero right to privacy, etc etc. i tried my damnedest to fight that fight, but there was no getting through. my entire argument was chewed up and spit back at me by people who were not willing to listen.

but, more to the point of this post: the more barricades we throw up in front of people who are just trying to move forward and improve their lives, the more likely they are to reoffend. and given our egregiously racist legal system, adding questions such as these to the college application process can only further cement the disparity that is but one result of it. it feeds an already vicious cycle.
Posted by mr. herriman on July 19, 2013 at 1:51 AM · Report this
@14: Well-stated.
Posted by Fizgig on July 19, 2013 at 10:52 AM · Report this
@14: indeed, well said.
Posted by gnossos on July 19, 2013 at 11:08 AM · Report this
In Washington State, Western Washington University asks a relatively narrow question about criminal background, quite similar to that which will be asked by UW. Eastern Washington asks a question about sex offenses. In addition, Seattle University, Gonzaga University, Seattle Pacific University, University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University, Whitman, Whitworth as broader questions about both disciplinary school histories and criminal backgrounds including convictions for misdemeanors.

But, Washington State University does not.

Posted by amcauce on July 19, 2013 at 12:47 PM · Report this
Has anyone asked the victims of these sex offenders how they feel about this?
Posted by thatsjarrod on July 19, 2013 at 10:24 PM · Report this

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