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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

New criminal record question on application raises concerns

UMass President’s Office has mandated the addition of a series of questions to the admissions application concerning an applicant’s criminal and disciplinary history, but not everyone on campus is on board with the decision.

Elizabeth Marie Hedrick, Student Senate representative to the Faculty Council, voiced concerns that the addition of these questions would still affect students who held criminal records.

“Individuals with criminal records may dismiss the idea of applying to college in the first place if their criminal record was a factor. In addition, students who are found with criminal records sometimes face no assistance in financial aid, not to mention the penalties already sentenced by the justice system,” said Hedrick.

The reason behind these changes to the admissions application was to ensure consistency with the Common Application, which UMass Boston accepts. The Common Application provides an application that students and school officials may submit to any of 346 colleges and universities.

The Common Application introduced its own criminal and disciplinary history questions to the 2006-2007 application. Common Application representatives reported that due to high profile acts of violence on college campuses by students who were later found to hold criminal records, that such questions regarding criminal records should be on the Common Application as a safety measure.

The admissions office at UMass Boston has the option to review responses and supplied data from the criminal and disciplinary history questions and use the data as factor in admission decisions for prospective students. Responses to these questions are not checked by a source such as CORI, or Criminal Offender Record Information. Furthermore, The Department of Public Safety at UMass Boston does not receive any criminal record data. Such data is highly confidential and would be handled on a state level, said Lieutenant Stan Steward, the highest ranking Public Safety official on campus.

Billie Gastie, a professor at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies, raises a different set of questions.

“To me, it is much more understandable to include a question about criminal record than a disciplinary record. The response to high-profile violence committed by students with criminal records has oversimplified the matter-while many students who have committed these campus crimes have had past criminal histories, not all of them have. Not everyone with a criminal history has committed a criminal crime. How good a predictor past criminal history is for future crime by someone who is college eligible is just not known,” said Gastie, who specializes in violence and safety in schools and communities.

She is especially concerned that a criminal record question is not a useful method to employ as a safety measure.

“Schools that look at [criminal record question responses] say that it is a measure of student character and that it helps make for safer college campuses-their position is not based on fact. There is no evidence to suggest that colleges have become any safer since the introduction of these questions,” said Gastic.

Lisa Johnson, Associate Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management, emphasized that the disciplinary and criminal history aspects of the application are present not merely as a safety measure, but as a means to provide assistance and support for prospective students.

“We are in the business to bring students in, not to set up barriers to exclude anyone. The responses and supplied data to these questions are kept absolutely confidential and are evaluated carefully. Most cases are misdemeanors and not so serious violations. Prospective students must submit a separate supplement, outlining the approximate date of each incident and an explanation of the circumstances. We have found that those with a record are more likely to have expressed changed morals since the incident and are then admitted,” said Johnson.

Johnson also dismissed the notion that minorities, who are statistically more likely to be penalized for often non-violent crimes, would be disproportionately affected by the questions.

“In terms of UMass Boston, current statistics show that minority students are not particularly affected by the questions. As a state university with one of the most minority student populations in New England, this is an especially important concern and I am glad that this is not the case at this university,” said Johnson.

UMass Boston Graduates Studies is forming a task force to spearhead this issue.

Davin Surin can be contacted at [email protected]