Prospective Duke faculty members may soon have to consent to background checks.
Currently, all University staff and all faculty involved in clinical work must undergo criminal background checks before being employed by Duke. The Academic Council, however, will discuss expanding this policy to require background checks for all faculty in their meeting Thursday.
The policy change being discussed mirrors a transformation happening at institutions across the country and will not be unique to Duke, said Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh, who oversees staffing and human resources for the University.
“It’s become what is referred to as the best practice in virtually all employment in other types of industries,” Cavanaugh said. “This is a natural evolution of the issue of conducting due diligence in terms of new hires.”
Cavanaugh stressed that it is crucial to keep the faculty informed of how the background checks will work.
“The process that we use is very objective, very thorough and the confidentiality that is maintained throughout the process is critical,” Cavanaugh said. “We want to ensure that it’s being conducted in a uniform and objective fashion.”
Academic Council chair Susan Lozier, Ronie-Richele Garcia-Johnson professor of physical oceanography, wrote in an email Monday that the decision has not been made yet and said that the issue will be further discussed at the Thursday meeting of the Academic Council. She declined to comment any further before then.
Cavanaugh said that most of the faculty views the change positively and, ultimately, the verdict hinges on their opinion. He hopes to have the decision made as soon as possible and is “optimistic,” but notes that there is no firm deadline.
“Anything that we have that impacts our faculty, we want to walk the faculty leadership through,” Cavanaugh said. “We want to make sure their voice is front and center and any issues that they have are taken into full consideration.”
Tripp Young, a Ph.D. student in the classical studies department who may have to undergo this very same process himself, said that he is not surprised by this change and, instead, welcomes it.
“I’ve had background checks for every other job I’ve had, so why not at a university?” Young said.
Young, who has a background in military and intelligence operations, said that he believes a criminal background check is less important for a career in higher education compared to one dealing with classified information. Still, he noted the benefits background checks can have for both professors and students.
“You are dealing with student populations and there could be some risk of abuse or exposing undergrads to criminal activity,” Young said.
Cavanaugh said that he does not expect any employees to be eliminated from this screening process and hopes to use it not so much as a tool to weed out prospective faculty but rather to create a more protected atmosphere for those involved with the University.
“We want to make sure that we’re applying our best due diligence to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our students and for our coworkers and visitors,” Cavanaugh said.