The Academic Council meeting Thursday centered on discussion over a proposal to require criminal background checks for all future faculty hires.
Vice President of Administration Kyle Cavanaugh attended the meeting to answer questions about the proposed background checks, which are currently required when hiring University staff as well as faculty members involved in clinical work, but not for other University faculty. The three main variables that will be taken into consideration are the recency, severity and relevance of any convictions an applicant is found to have had in the past seven years. An arrests without a conviction, however, will not be reviewed.
“We do not ban anyone from employment at Duke based on our findings in terms of a criminal background check,” Cavanaugh said. “But we take a look at those variables, and we take a look at the relationship [of the conviction] to the position.”
Under the current system, for example, an applicant with a record of DUIs will not be hired as a bus driver, Cavanaugh said. The same sort of practical mentality will be applied to background checks for faculty.
Cavanaugh added that any findings will be immediately shared with the applicant, allowing them a chance to offer an explanation.
“Sometimes there are some legitimate mitigating factors that have to be taken into consideration,” Cavanaugh said. “There are occasions when... you’ve got the wrong Kyle Cavanaugh.”
When asked whether current faculty members would have any input on the background check, Provost Peter Lange replied that preserving the applicant’s confidentiality was of greater importance. Under the new proposal, the results of a background check would be known to at most five people, all of whom are directly involved in the review process. Informing all the faculty members in a department would essentially make the information public, Lange said.
“As faculty, we enjoy privileges not shared by other Duke employees,” said Academic Council Chair Susan Lozier, Ronie-Richele Garcia-Johnson professor of physical oceanography. “But the privilege of being above suspicion is not one I find defensible or desirable.”
Although he expects it to have a minimal effect, Cavanaugh said the proposal is a necessary step in the evolution of the faculty evaluation process.
“The number of cases that we’re going to encounter over a five-year period is probably verging on zero,” Lange said.
In other business:
Executive Vice President Tallman Trask provided the council with a brief update on the possibility of cuts to employer contributions to employee 403(b) plans. No proposal has been made, though discussions are ongoing, he noted.
“The model we have now, we’ve had for 30 years,” Trask said. “The world is very different now in terms of retirement and retirement expectations.”
In his annual address to the Academic Council, President Richard Brodhead focused on what he termed a nationwide “credit crisis” in higher education.
“I call it a credit crisis because it involves a crisis in fundamental credence,” Brodhead said. “A breakdown, or at least a possible breakdown, in the public’s confidence that higher education has self-evident value.”
Brodhead cited several complaints about higher education that have recently been circulating in the media, including complaints about rising financial burdens and “dashed hopes” of college graduates who are unable to find a job. As a result, many experts are advocating for universities to more closely assess the value they provide.
In his address, Brodhead acknowledged the need for the development of new measures and improvement of current measures of educational success. But there is a tendency for analysts to overstate the importance of traditional metrics, Brodhead said.
“[Liberal arts] education aims to engage multiple forms of intelligence to create deep and enduring habits of mind.... The value of this habit of mind is not to be measured by income alone, least of all income one year after graduation,” Brodhead stated.
“The value of this habit of mind is that it is equipment for living.... It supplies enrichment for personal lives, equips students to be thoughtful social contributors and prepares students to participate fully and creatively in the dynamic and changing world that awaits them after graduation.”