Members of the University community, including a student who was allegedly attacked by a UNC employee who had a criminal record, say mandatory background checks will create a safer campus environment.
"This is clearly an area (where) we felt we could make an important contribution to the safety of staff and students without parting with a large expenditure of funds," said Drake Maynard, senior director of human resources.
The policy, which will take effect Oct. 1, calls for mandatory criminal background checks for all temporary and permanent staff, faculty and administrative positions.
Maynard said UNC will use the N.C. Administrative Office of Courts database, to which the University has a free connection. Previously, the University only used the database for people applying for "positions of trust," where employees had access to students' personal information.
Members of the Department of Public Safety will work with the human resources department to follow up if an applicant shows a past record.
Maynard said he was worried that the University had gotten a reputation for hiring employees without doing background checks. "In looking at the surrounding area, at academic and nonacademic sources of employment, we found we were the largest group that didn't do (background checks) at all," he said. "Everybody out there knows we don't check, so people out there with something to hide know where to come."
And one student says if this policy had been instituted sooner, she might have been spared a traumatic ordeal.
The student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she was raped at gunpoint in her Chapel Hill apartment Jan. 9.
Dwayne Russell Edwards, an employee of Tar Heel Temps who had held three jobs at the University, was arrested and charged with seven felony counts in conjunction with the student's assault in January, as well as 33 felonies related to one rape and one sexual assault in Carrboro in December.
Before being hired at UNC, Edwards served five months in an Illinois jail for burglary and forgery. He was arrested in Cumberland County for breaking and entering and felony larceny last year.
At UNC, Edwards held a clerical position at Student Health Service, where he had access to students' telephone numbers and addresses on the SHS database after students provided a PID number as part of appointment scheduling procedures.
"He raped me at gunpoint, and he was employed by the University," the student said. "If they had done a simple background check, they would have found the charges against him."
The issue of background checks has come up again at UNC recently -- two Carolina Dining Services employees were arrested on felony charges. One employee was arrested when it was discovered that there were outstanding warrants for his arrest in New Jersey, while the other was arrested for bringing a gun to Lenoir Dining Hall.
Although the employee who brought the gun to Lenoir had no previous arrest record, the student said background checks could help minimize the risks students might face when interacting with employees. "We are in a day and age where, it's sad to say, we need to do a criminal background check on everyone we hire," the student said. "For someone to show up at work at Lenoir with a gun is just insane. It should never happen -- it makes me wonder how many more there are."
Bob Joyce, a professor at the Institute of Government, said employers have two options when conducting background checks. Joyce said an employer can physically go to the courthouse for each county and obtain records, or the employer can pay a private agency to compile records and run applicants through their database.
He said there are no legal constraints if an employer does his or her own checks. But employers who hire a private agency are subject to the restrictions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which specifies that companies ask an applicant's permission before running a check and informing the applicant of the results.
Maynard said background checks will perform a valuable service for the University. He said when UNC began running limited checks two years ago, a large number of the applicants checked came back with criminal records.
"When we first put the limited policy in effect, the first year, we were getting back 20 to 40 percent of our applicants who said they had no criminal conviction but did," he said. "It's not so much about identifying people with criminal convictions, because we ask that on the application. It's more trying to find out where people have been truthful or not."
The anonymous student said background checks are the least the University can do for students. "This has affected my life so much that I feel like students should know we're not safe," she said. "We always ask questions about how can the University compete -- we talk about faculty salaries, technology, expansion plans and how it will affect the students. But how are we going to be a better university if we don't protect our students?"
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