Approved by the:

Administrative Response:
Student Senate March 5, 2015


This past academic year Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson charged a group to examine our current practices. The Admissions Executive Advisory Group, the committee that reviews admission recommendations for applicants that have indicated a criminal record, reviewed the current conduct questions. Their goal was to determine whether the University should modify the questions to remove barriers to access that may be caused by the broad nature of the current language while at the same time being attentive to campus safety concerns. The recommendation of the committee was endorsed by Provost Hanson and President Kaler and is now in practice on the Twin Cities campus. The language now reads:
  • I have been expelled from, suspended from, or placed on probation at any high school or college for reasons of academic dishonesty.
  • I have been convicted of a felony or I have pending felony charges against me at this time.
  • As an adult or juvenile, I have been found legally responsible for a sexual offense or I have sexual offense charges pending against me at this time.
The administration believes that these changes are attentive to the issues that have been raised regarding the barriers to potential applicants with a criminal record of low level offenses, while at the same time safeguarding the University's obligation to ensure a campus learning environment that reinforces academic integrity and safety for its students and the campus community.

Please note that regardless of whether a student checks yes for any of the aforementioned questions, academic admissibility is determined first based on the student's application and academic credentials. If a student is deemed admissible, then consideration of the suspension/expulsion or felony/sexual offense is reviewed and a determination is made as to whether the information poses a threat to safety or academic integrity. If there is information that suggests a possible threat to campus safety or academic integrity, that information is forwarded to a University-wide committee with representation from across campus departments including Counseling, the University colleges, Student Affairs, the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, Housing and Residential Life, the Office for Equity and Diversity, the Office of the General Counsel, and University of Minnesota Police Department. The committee considers factors including the conduct's severity, relationship to the academic program, timeframe, mitigating circumstances, and any evidence of rehabilitation to determine whether the student's circumstances should impact the admission decision. Based on this review, the committee makes a recommendation of admit or deny to the Director of Admissions and the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. In the past, very rarely have 'yes' answers impacted an admission decision.

Resolution to "Ban the Box" on Undergraduate Application Forms

The Student Senate recommends to the President and the Provost of the University that the criminal history disclosure question be removed from the application process.

If the President and the Provost of the University determine that criminal history information is absolutely necessary for the purpose of addressing campus safety concerns, the Student Senate recommends that a new process is created that follows the model provided by the 2009/2013 "Ban the Box" employment legislation where applicants are only required to submit criminal history information after being conditionally admitted to the University.

The Student Senate further recommends that criminal history information questions be narrowly worded and tailored to specifically address the convictions or conviction types that are relevant to campus safety, and that, following the research, the University creates a specific policy and set of procedures that outlines how the Admissions Department should treat applications that answer "Yes" to ensure that these applicants are treated fairly and consistently.

COMMENTS:

The University of Minnesota system's undergraduate application currently includes a criminal history self-disclosure question (hereinafter referred to as the "Question") that reads:

"Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense (felony, misdemeanor, or juvenile offense) other than a minor traffic violation, or is any such charge now pending against you?";

In order to be considered for admission to the University, all University of Minnesota undergraduate applicants are required to answer the Question. The Question relies on self-reports from applicants; proactive criminal background checks are generally not conducted on all undergraduate applicants because of the prohibitive costs of doing so. Responses to the Question are used as a factor in determining whether to admit an applicant. The Admissions Department does not have an explicit policy or set of procedures in place to guide admissions officials in how to treat applications that answer "Yes" to the Question. The University Admissions Department itself does not actually keep statistics on the number of applicants who answer "Yes" to the Question, nor do they keep statistics on the number of applicants who are denied. Conversely, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system ("MNSCU"), the other public post-secondary system in Minnesota, which serves more than 435,000 students annually at 31 institutions statewide, does not require undergraduate applicants to disclose criminal history information, and the MNSCU system has not publicly stated any intention to do so.

There are several issues with the Question and this practice. First, the text of the Question itself is problematic. It is overly broad and lacks specificity. The breadth of the Question requires applicants to potentially submit information about convictions that are not relevant to their pursuit of higher education and have no bearing on public safety. The Question is also legally ambiguous and confusing. The vast majority of juveniles in Minnesota are not "convicted" but are instead "adjudicated," which are legally distinct dispositions and carry different meanings. However, that distinction may not be appreciated by either the applicant or the admissions officials.

Second, recent research by scholars at the University of North Carolina has shown that criminal history application questions are ineffective in predicting criminal behavior during college and "the screening questions used on the college application are not able to identify which students will engage in misconduct during college."[1]  Furthermore, there does not appear to be any research or data to support the claim that the Question impacts campus safety.

Third, there exist little empirical data on how the Question affects the pool of applicants who apply to the University, but anecdotal data suggests that the Question is potentially deterring otherwise qualified undergraduate applicants from applying to the University of Minnesota.

Fourth, the process by which the applications that answer "Yes" to the Question is problematic. Research conducted in the employment sector has shown that organizations that do not have established procedures on how to handle applications with criminal records are more likely to be inconsistent in how they deal with these applications.[2]

Fifth, the Question is counter to the spirit of current efforts in public policy[3]  to lessen the collateral consequences associated with a conviction as exemplified by the recent "Ban the Box" legislation passed in the State of Minnesota for the employment sector which prohibits criminal history questions on employment applications for public employers (passed in 2009, signed by Governor Pawlenty) and private employers (passed in 2013, signed by Governor Dayton). The "Ban the Box" law states, in part, that the employer "may not inquire into or consider or require disclosure of the criminal record or criminal history of an applicant for employment until the applicant has been selected for an interview by the employer or, if there is not an interview, before a conditional offer of employment is made to the applicant."[4]

Finally, African Americans and other communities of color are disproportionately subjected to the effects of the Question and other similar criminal history disclosure requirements, and therefore this practice runs counter to the University's stated goals of diversity and inclusion. Communities of color in Minnesota are disproportionately represented in every phase of the criminal justice system. In particular, African American arrest rates compared to whites are among the largest disparities in the United States.[5]  A report by the ACLU of Minnesota found that African Americans are arrested in Minneapolis at disproportionately higher rates for low-level crimes where the decision to arrest is more discretionary. African Americans are much more likely to be arrested than white individuals for curfew (16.39 times), marijuana possession (11.5 times), and disorderly conduct (8.86 times).[6]  African Americans are also disproportionately incarcerated in Minnesota at a rate 9.1 times higher than white Minnesotans.[7]  Therefore, the Question is likely violating the first "Value" of the Office of Equity and Diversity, which states, "Our commitment to social justice drives and grounds our work so that everything we do continuously fosters excellence through shared responsibility for continuously preparing, inviting, and welcoming people to an environment where all have the opportunity to thrive at the University and beyond."[8]


[1] Runyan, Carol W., Matthew W. Pierce, Viswanathan Shankar, and Shrikant I. Bangdiwala. 2013. "Can Student-Perpetrated College Crime Be Predicted Based on Precollege Misconduct?" Injury Prevention 19(6):405–11.

[2] Lageson, Sarah Esther, Mike Vuolo, and Christopher Uggen. 2014. "Legal Ambiguity in Managerial Assessments of Criminal Records." Law & Social Inquiry. doi: 10.1111/lsi.12066.

[3] National Employment Law Project. 2015. Ban the Box: U.S. Cities, Counties, and States Adopt Fair Hiring Policies to Reduce Unfair Barriers to Employment of People with Criminal Records. (http://www.nelp.org/page/-/SCLP/Ban-the-Box-Fair-Chance-State-and-Local-Guide.pdf?nocdn=1).

[4] Minn. Stat. S 364.021(a) (2014).

[5] Council on Crime and Justice. 2012. Reducing Racial Disparity While Enhancing Public Safety: Key Findings and Recommendations. (http://www.crimeandjustice.org/researchReports/Reducing%20Racial%20Disparity%20While%20Enhancing%20Public%20Safety.pdf).

[6] American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota. 2014. ACLU releases data showing racial disparities in low level arrests in Minneapolis. (http://www.aclu-mn.org/news/2014/10/28/aclu-releases-data-showing-racial-disparities-low-level-arre).

[7] Supra note 3.

[8] Office of Equity and Diversity. 2014. .About OED. (https://diversity.umn.edu/aboutoed).


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