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Regents draft faculty felon policy

By Bob Purvis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, April 12, 2004
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PHOENIX - Responding to political pressure from a state legislator, the Arizona Board of Regents has crafted a draft policy outlining hiring and firing processes for employees convicted of a felony.

The draft would require universities to run criminal background checks on applicants and fingerprinting for "safety-sensitive" positions or jobs dealing with minors.

However, it would not keep felons convicted of violent or sexual crimes from being hired, as Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, had hoped.

Biggs introduced a bill earlier in the session that would have ordered universities to automatically fire faculty convicted of certain violent felonies and given university presidents the power to fire felons regardless of the offense.

He stopped pushing the House-approved bill after being assured the regents would pursue more stringent hiring practices.

Biggs said that although the draft policy shows the regents are "making an effort," it doesn't go far enough.

"The way the policy is written, it looks like it pays more attention to the due process of faculty than it does to the safety of the other faculty and students," Biggs said.

Under the draft policy, faculty convicted of felonies would be placed on administrative leave but could possibly return, depending on the circumstances of the crime.

Biggs said he is disappointed it doesn't include a list of specific crimes that would result in automatic termination, specifically violent or sexual crimes.

"I have some real difficulty with the idea that a convicted rapist should be on a college campus, ever," Biggs said.

Biggs has been pushing for the tighter regulation after learning about an Arizona State University professor who was rehired after being convicted and imprisoned on a charge of aggravated assault.

The UA leaves hiring practices to individual departments, and felons are not precluded from employment.

Cathy McGonigle, a board of regents lobbyist, said the regents wanted to maintain discretion in dealing with felons.

"When the bill was initially introduced, it had no due-process element," McGonigle said.

She said elements of the policy, like considering subsequent employment history and whether a conviction is relevant to the job, were important in ensuring fairness.

Other safeguards, like creating a list of crimes for which university presidential approval would be required to hire or retain felons, will keep dangerous criminals from being employed, McGonigle said.

"It doesn't mean these people are going to be hired; it just means that every case will be subject to review," McGonigle said. "Obviously, the board (of regents) and universities are very concerned about student safety. That's our primary concern."

Greg Fahey, a UA lobbyist, said automatic firing opened the door to lawsuits and, more importantly, ignored employees' right to case-by-case reviews.

"We want to be able to evaluate these things on an individual basis," Fahey said. "It's not just that we don't want to be sued, but we don't want to be unjust to people."

The Faculty Senate is considering implementing its own policy, and the regents' draft policy will be one of the topics discussed at its next regular meeting.

Andy Silverman, a UA law professor and civil liberties advocate, said universities need to be cautious when implementing rules that punish felons.

"I am worried when we begin putting too many barriers in front of those people who are trying to make a new life for themselves; so we need to be cautious in what we do," Silverman said.

He said although the draft policy does have elements of due process, he is still concerned it could be abused.

"The test of the course will be how the regents' policy is implemented at the university," Silverman said.

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