Sending a child off to college or university is a nerve-wracking experience for most parents. They want their child to be safe. So it certainly seems appropriate for administrators to know whether applicants have a history of violent criminal behavior.
Until it’s not.
The State University of New York has agreed to stop asking student applicants if they have been convicted of a felony. It is a delicate question that could make or break someone’s life, so the concept – known as banning the box – is well-intentioned.
But there are the concerns of other students and their parents to consider. This is one of those instances where a middle ground must be found.
In general, college campuses tend to be safe environments. There are stark exceptions to that rule and the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting – and others since – awakened fears in our society that the worst can happen.
The SUNY board of trustees’ action to get rid of the criminal history check box on applications to its campuses includes the University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State and Erie Community College. Much consideration went into the decision after nearly a year of study by a working group of faculty and administrators across the SUNY system.
In the past, revealing a felony conviction triggered a set of follow-up inquiries that might have discouraged applicants. Studies, such as one conducted by the Center for Community Alternatives, have shown that some applicants who have had to check the crime box never finish the application process.
SUNY’s new policy still requires students to declare their felony convictions when applying to live on campus or for internships or study abroad opportunities. That still makes advocates for banning the box uncomfortable and probably doesn’t do enough to allay the concerns of others.
Perhaps it is not unreasonable to attempt to modify the decree by requiring limited additional information only from just-released felons, or those convicted of violent crimes. This request for information should not rise to the level of being an unreasonable barrier to admission.
This is the land of second chances. Society can benefit from returning released felons to mainstream life.
But it seems reasonable to consider criminal history with the other factors that are considered in deciding to admit a prospective student.