Va. legislators investigating updating background checks on college students, transfer students

College Background ChecksIn light of the kidnapping of a University of Virginia student, Hannah Graham, the state’s lawmakers are considering re-vamping the process for conducting background checks not only on the state’s university students, but also how they handle students that transfer from one university to another within the state. Jesse Matthew Jr., a former football player at Christopher Newport University, has been arrested for the abduction of Graham. He previously had been accused of sexual assault at Liberty University, and later CNU, though he was not prosecuted for the latter charges. Lawmakers are now asking themselves if they are doing enough to keep tabs on students’ disciplinary and arrest records, especially as many colleges have had to deal with incidences and allegations of sexual assault on and off campus. Virginia law requires all public and private universities to collaborate with Virginia State Police to check every admitted student’s name against the Virginia Criminal Information Network and the state’s sex offender registry. However, once a student has begun taking classes at his or her chosen venue of higher learning, school administrators may never discover later arrests and convictions. In addition, the current background checks do not bring up information about charges that have not resulted in a conviction. Senator Thomas K. Norment, who teaches at the College of William and Mary, says that those who have had trouble with the law in the past but have not been convicted of a crime should still be investigated in order to protect other students. “I know there are issues,” Norment said, “but I do think colleges should be able to exchange behavioral problems [information] so a student like [Jesse Matthew Jr.] cannot go from school to school without the school knowing who and what they are getting.” However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia warns against the potential discrimination that could result from updated these checks. “We do not believe that arrest information should be considered at all, given its lack of reliability,” said Claire Guthrie Gastanage, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. “A person is innocent until proven guilty, and there are too many arrests, particularly those that never get prosecuted, for which there wasn’t even probable cause, to believe the person was engaged in criminal activity in the first place.” William and Mary already requires all students to report any felony arrests within 72 hours, even if it occurs in another state. In addition, the college’s incoming transfer students are required to obtain a certificate of good standing from the dean of the college from which they are transferring. Senator Mark Warner introduced a bill last year to attempt to improve the process of reporting incidences of arrests and assaults, though there is always more to be done. photo credit: hjl via photopin cc]]>

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