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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Dec. 7, 2007

Criminal background checks considered

by Erin Rosacker

Earlier this year, president Gregory Geoffroy appointed a task force to examine the use of criminal background checks in the hiring process. The task force researched practices in place across campus and policies at other institutions, then assembled seven diverse focus groups to cross-section ISU's different constituencies.

Through open discussion and a short, anonymous survey of the focus groups, the task force found general acceptance of criminal background checks, and identified three main concerns.

"We found that people didn't like how decentralized the process was, that there were no standardized controls for confidentiality and no central policy in place," said Kathryn Overberg, associate university counsel and task force chair.

In its final report to the president, submitted in September, the task force recommended development of a centralized policy at ISU -- one that dealt with many kinds of background checks, not just criminal, to ensure safe, quality hiring decisions.

Overberg said the background checks could include employment verification, reference checks, criminal history and even academic credentials. She said credit checks also are becoming more common in some fields. They are sometimes a requirement for positions dealing with credit cards.

Fleshing out a policy

Some universities, such as Iowa and Northern Iowa, already have background-check policies in place, but only for limited groups of employees with access to sensitive areas (financial, building access, etc.). The task force, now working as part of a larger policy development committee, is crafting language that would require background checks for all new hires at ISU.

"We will have to define who 'everybody' is -- does that include temporary staff and student hires?" Overberg said. "That is something the committee will need to flesh out."

Another issue the committee will consider is background checks for current employees who are re-classed or reassigned.

"Just because a person has been employed at Iowa State, that may not mean they will be grandfathered in," Overberg said. "Depending on how the committee moves forward, [employees] could go through a background check if they move into a new position."

She said the university could contract with companies to do background checks at every level -- state, federal and international.

"If a person is hired from another state, it doesn't help to just do a background check in Iowa," she said.

Added cost in the hiring process also will be a consideration. Human resource services staff estimate the average number of annual hires between 2,200 and 3,600. The task force report quoted one company's criminal records search rate at $51 each.

The policy development committee will begin meeting next semester. Overberg hopes by May to have a draft ready for public comment in the university's policy library.


An ISU committee is working to create a policy that would require background checks -- including criminal history -- during the hiring process.