Safety at a university can be a top concern when deciding where to apply or when to schedule a class. According to mybackgroundcheck.com, one of the largest providers of “student-supplied” background check services to colleges and universities, at least one-in-29 college students have criminal records.
Currently, CSUN administrators do not conduct criminal background checks on prospective students for the undergraduate or graduate program. Students who are to be hired for work on-campus do not undergo background checks either, said Dr. William Watkins, the vice president of student affairs.
“Students and employees attending public colleges and universities enjoy a high level of confidentiality concerning their personal record, including records about prior arrests or convictions,” Watkins said.
The rare occasion when criminal backgrounds are checked is for the interview process to hire a public safety officer, Watkins said.
“Public institutions are allowed to access and consider this information in those limited circumstances where there is a need for that information to be known based on the work to be done or position to be held,” Watkins said. “When collected, this information is typically protected from disclosures to a third party without the permission of the individual.”
The Department of Police Services declined to comment about the matter citing it is irrelevant to CSUN and it is not their area to speak about.
Watkins said the university administration does not keep tabs on student criminals.
However, some say the number of students with criminal records might actually be higher. James David Ballard, co-president of the California Faculty Association and associate professor of criminology at CSUN, said location is key.
“I think since we’re an urban university those numbers might be low,” Ballard said. “It’s a concentration of people; you have more of a probability of having a higher number of criminals than you would in a rural area simply because of the sheer number and income disparities.”
Essentially, in a lecture class of 200 students, there would be more than seven students with a history of criminal activity. But before the blame game starts up in the classroom, Ballard advises that pinpointing who might have a criminal record is an unfair judgment.
“It’s kind of hard to look at somebody to know if they’re a criminal,” he said. “Having a criminal stereotype is problematic because if somebody has tattoos and wears certain clothes that doesn’t mean they’re doing criminal activity — it might just mean they have bad fashion. We have the right to live our lives without being under scrutiny.”
With this “don’t ask, don’t tell” type of policy, Ballard also said it is both unwise and unnecessary to conduct background checks.
“If you‘ve made it to this level of your education, you deserve a chance to succeed,” Ballard said. “We know the things that make them successful: work, family, and education. These are the things that keep them from going back. So we’re one of the legs on the stool and this is the place where you should have a chance to achieve your dream. Don’t you have the opportunity, especially at a university, to change your life?”
Associated Students (A.S.) President Abel Pacheco agrees with Ballard’s philosophy of live and let live.
CSUN has a number of safety precautions for students Pacheco added. Some precautions are the anonymous “We Tip Hotline,” the blue light emergency telephones located around campus, the Personal Safety Escort Program and the Amber Light Patrol for students who need security while fixing vehicle problems.
“I strongly believe in second chances and if they’re going to college to improve themselves then I’m supportive of that,” Pacheco said.