Background check policy might deter potential candidates

Administrators have begun reviewing Butler University’s  background check policy to evaluate its effectiveness and respond to fears that it is causing the university to lose candidates.

Associate Provost Laura Behling said at the Feb. 21 Faculty Senate meeting that administrators have started to review both the cost and the time associated with background checks.

The background checks can take from a few days to two weeks or longer and must be completed before a candidate visits campus.

Stuart Glennan, an associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said that this lag can be detrimental, especially during the peak hiring season.

“We are competing very directly with other institutions, and speed matters,” he said.

Bill Templeton, an associate dean in the College of Business, said other schools are able to immediately invite a candidate to campus, while Butler committees have to wait for the background check to clear.

“I’d rather incur the occasional expense of bringing a candidate to campus [who eventually does not pass a background check] than incur the bureaucratic cost and lose candidates,” Templeton said.

Interim Provost Kathryn Morris said at the Faculty Senate meeting that she is bringing “at least an introductory conversation” before the academic affairs committee and the board of trustees at their next meeting.

She said that while discussions concerning tenure and promotion might overshadow the background check policy, it will be a topic of conversation.

“I’m not sure it will get the attention it deserves, but it will sure be on their minds,” Morris said.

The background checks, which are conducted by an outside firm, were instated in August 2010 to “protect the safety and security” of the Butler community, according to the policy.

Primary background checks of the employment history, references, credentials, criminal background, names and previous addresses of candidates for employment are performed on all final job candidates who are invited to an on-campus interview.

Behling said the checks either come back with what she termed as a green light, yellow light or red light.

A red light includes “egregious convictions” such as violent crimes. A yellow light may flag some more minor offenses, while a green light means that nothing was returned. That information comes back to the provost, dean and director of human resources for review.

Behling said at the meeting that she did not have a list on-hand of what falls into each level of offense.

These checks can become complicated if a candidate has lived in multiple states and countries, Behling said, because it must go through all of them, and some countries are not responsive.

“If you have candidates that are very well-traveled, it’s a much more complicated endeavor, and it can really slow it down,” Behling said.

Templeton said one candidate had provided a photo identification card from a country the person had lived in more than eight years prior and then was asked to provide another when it was considered insufficient. The candidate eventually withdrew from the search, he said.

Templeton said having checks before the person comes to campus is “clumsy,” and it would be more reasonable to do them at the time of an offer instead of before a visit.

He said he has not heard of a candidate being dismissed because of a background check, and they can become cumbersome.

“It’s not that you catch every third person,” Templeton said.

Michelle Jarvis, associate dean of the Jordan College of Fine Arts, said she believes the policy has caused the college to lose candidates.

She said background checks should begin once candidates have been identified, but the search should continue while the results are completed in order to streamline the process.

For now, she said search committee members in JCFA have tried their best to explain the process to prospective faculty hires.

“We can communicate and hope for the best,” she said.

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