The Montana Kaimin recently ran an article, Montana universities differ on background check policy. The article states that Montana State University (MSU) did not start doing faculty background checks until 2010 and that the information contained goes back seven years – in compliance with Montana’s seven year law (Montana Code – Section 31-3-112). MSU did screen staff members working at residence halls and security prior to 2010, though. In contrast, the University of Montana has done pre-employment background screening on faculty since 2003, and employment is contingent on passing a background check.
The article was prompted by the case of a former MSU professor who was accused of sexually assaulting a student during the 2010-11 school year. The former professor had been hired in 2006, before the university started doing background check. At the time he was serving probation and had been convicted of two counts of unlawful intercourse with a minor. According to the article, the charges were from at least 20 years ago, and the university’s legal counsel said that the information would not have shown up in his background check.
Legal counsel for MSU stated “there are no statistics on how many former convicts with criminal convictions work in professor or administration positions on campus.” And the university does not currently have any plans to run background checks on professors hired before 2010. The University of Montana also does not keep public information on how many of their faculty and administration have felony convictions.
Will this policy change? Most likely, it will not. Generally speaking, unless something bad happens, most organizations don’t make changes to their policies. We’ve seen that a number of schools have implemented new background policies as a result of the Penn State football scandal, and we applaud schools for doing so.
But we also think it’s a good idea for organizations to be proactive in examining their background screening program and policies, and to make changes as laws and accepted practices change. It’s unfortunate in the case cited in the article that Montana has a seven year law that restricts the information that organizations can receive, but this is not the law in every state. Check your state laws.
Additionally, review the EEOC’s updated guidelines. They contain new information, and it’s possible that criminal background policies dating back several years may not meet current standards.
Schools and other organizations, don’t get stuck doing what you’ve always done, not changing over time. Review and revise your background screening policies regularly.