Issue of the Week: Faculty Felons

Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The Arizona Board of Regents recently drafted a policy for hiring and firing faculty previously convicted of certain felonies. Though the bill calls for increased and standardized scrutiny of potential hires, it stops far short of the bill previously proposed by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, which would have mandated the immediate termination of all faculty felons. We asked our columnists, "Is the board of regents' policy the right one for students and faculty? Or are the regents a little too soft on crime?"

Bill is reasonable, but follow with trepidation

In reference to work, John D. Rockefeller said, "I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living."

Though it may seem unseemly to quote a greed-driven oil baron to illustrate honest work, Rockefeller does have a good point.

However, opportunity is not easily afforded to ex-convicts. Though they have served their debt to society, they are stigmatized by their past and fears that criminal activity may resurface.

To discriminate based on past and supposed future behavior is a serious affront to civil liberties.

Yet that same feeling of forgiveness for past transgressions must be tempered with concern for public welfare.

The faculty felons policy is promising in that it evaluates applicants on a case-by-case basis, not immediately barring employment by virtue of a criminal record.

Though it may be susceptible to abuse because of its subjective nature, it's the best option available that takes into account both public welfare and the rights of ex-convicts.

However, in terms of legislation, this should be considered the final word in hiring policies.

Let's hope this won't open up the floodgates to allow for more restrictive regulations.

Susan Bonicillo is a sophomore majoring in English. She can be reached at

Board of regents finally gets one right

I'll admit I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about this proposal. It just doesn't seem right to continue punishing someone for a crime after he has finished his sentence. Of course, I can understand why it's sometimes necessary, especially when we're talking about crimes that are likely to be repeated, according to statistics. Fortunately, this proposal doesn't create any problems like that. In fact, it's pretty redundant.

The proposal basically says any faculty member convicted of a felony will be put on leave while the university decides if he or she will be allowed to return. That sounds pretty reasonable, considering that every state employee, which I assume would include university faculty, is required to sign a contract affirming he or she will not violate any state laws. Even that contract itself seems redundant. The state laws apply to everyone, not just state employees, right?

The fact is, this policy, if enacted, would probably work to felons' advantage. It sets up a system of due process for the accused, which means they are not just going to be let go on the whim of an administrator. At the same time, it sets up a system in which those in sensitive positions will be properly screened for the safety of those they work with. It really is a win-win situation.

Tim Belshe is reasonably sure that a background check won't find anything that would get him fired. He can be reached at

Former felons cause widespread paranoia

You meet former felons all the time without knowing it, even on campus. While there are some charges that might not make a difference in your perception of the perpetrator, others change everything. If a guy says he's just been convicted of rape, any girl with an ounce of sense runs for the hills. There are just some crimes where no amount of repentance or rehabilitation will make most others see past the felon labeling. If you don't know the rapist, chances are you won't want to. On the other hand, many former criminals really have changed since their conviction and rebuilt their lives.

Safety is an issue at universities nationwide. Most former felons cause more paranoia than actual safety threats. Certainly, there must be professors who committed a felony long ago. If it's in the past, let's leave it there and let professors teach. The school should always know, but if they're good enough to hire, an old record should have little effect. However, if a professor commits a crime violent or sexual in nature during his or her tenure, it reflects his or her current state of mind. Chances are it's not the state of mind that should be anywhere near students at a university.

Sara Warzecka prefers not to know. She can be reached at

Regents' policy is a reasonable alternative

The question here is not so much whether the Arizona Board of Regents' faculty felony policy is good. At the very least, it seems necessary and sensible; retaining discretion over hiring is well within the university's rights and best interests.

So the question here is whether the board of regents' policy has done what it was intended to, which was to provide a more reasonable alternative to the policy Biggs was pushing. The answer is a clear YES.

To quote Biggs, "The way the (regents') 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 would have included a list of particular crimes resulting in the immediate termination of employees, completely ignoring any concept of due process when hiring and firing.

Not only would such rash action lead to lawsuits, but it would also lead to unfair firings that could deprive students of highly competent teachers (because even rehabilitated felons can be qualified professors). Neglecting to review cases based on their individual circumstances would also deny felons the possibility of rebuilding a life within the educational system.

The regents' drafted policy averts potential disaster by preserving schools' hiring choices while also promising due process to their employees. With its system of safeguards, objectivity and foresight, it provides what the university needs: a thoughtful pursuit of justice in hiring, rather than a witch-hunt.

Sabrina Noble is a senior majoring in English and creative writing. She can be reached at

He's a witch! Let's get him!

"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 about the new faculty felon policy drafted by the regents.

Who really needs due process anyway? If people make a mistake, they should have to pay for the rest of their lives. Come to think of it, who really needs our justice system anyway? Let's bring back the days of the Salem witch trials and public stonings! I can see the new FOX special now.

Somebody should give Biggs some coffee or a swift kick in the groin, throw him into a pool or do something else to wake him up to the 21st century, where due process is one of the cornerstones of society.

This new policy does the right thing by ignoring Biggs' cries to condemn people before they even walk through the door or say a word to defend themselves.

It's a good idea to be safe and cautious, which is why the policy asks for criminal background checks, but everyone deserves a second chance to at least be considered for a position they want, despite past indiscretions.

Jason Poreda is a political science and communication senior. He can be reached at

Safety's not just about the students

If high schoolers filling out summer job applications have to answer, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" so should university faculty.

The board of regents' policy is a real effort to protect the students and employees of the UA. And because it attends to due process far better than Biggs' bill, it's a better deal for all parties concerned.

But the lack of a list of fireable offenses poses a concern. Because all crimes and criminals are different, the regents' decision to take things on a case-by-case basis is admirable. Yet there's got to be a list.

Out of fairness to felons, the board should predetermine what crimes most put students and employees at risk and how the university will analyze felons' behavior since the crime(s) occurred.

Regents are smart to prioritize safety at Arizona universities. But they should not forfeit employee rights in the process. A lack of consistency in hiring and firing policies makes for questionable actions. Look at the fate of the Pima Hall resident assistant who was asked to resign last week: Does Residence Life have a specific stipulation in its handbook that April Fools' pranks should be met with job termination? The grounds on which Res Life made that decision are unclear and problematic.

Faculty should all face the same scrutiny in efforts to secure the safety of the entire UA community. But they shouldn't be subject to arbitrary decisions. The policy has to protect everyone.

Eliza Tebo is a history senior. She can be reached at