The University of Michigan has recently started running criminal background checks on GSIs. Here is a FAQ:
• Will I be background checked? The University’s stated policy is that you will be
checked if you start as a GSI for the first time in or after Winter 2014. If you were a
GSI prior to that, you won’t be checked, even if you teach again in the future. However,
this policy hasn’t been implemented consistently so far. In Winter 2014, background
checks were run on some returning GSIs and not on some new GSIs.
• What does the check involve? The University contracts with an external vendor
to carry out the background checks. UPDATE: the process is likely to be more invasive than we were led to believe: according to the vendor, it “may investigate your education, work history, professional licenses and credentials, references, address history, social security number validity, right to work, criminal record, lawsuits, driving record, credit history, and any other information with public or private information sources.”
• What happens if the check finds something? Your job offer could be withdrawn.
The University doesn’t have a central policy stating what information in a background
check could disqualify you from working as a GSI, so this is at the discretion of your
department. Standards might vary significantly: Academic Human Resources has suggested that you might be able to find a different GSI position even if you are disqualified
from your original one.
• What’s wrong with background checks? They’re inherently unfair. In the US,
people of color are more likely than whites to be arrested for minor offenses, including marijuana posession. And the background check process itself has built-in biases against trans* people and undocumented students, because anyone who has changed their name or whose personal information contains gaps or “inconsistencies” will provoke extra scrutiny.
Without a consistent University-wide policy, we’re also subject to the arbitrary judgment of whoever makes decisions in our individual departments. You could find your job offer revoked because of that person’s (conscious or unconscious) biases or just plain personal animus.
• Can they really just withdraw my job offer? Our contract contains strong job
security language, which commits the University to paying your salary once you are
offered a GSI position except in very specific cases (see, in particular, Article IX, Section
C, 9). The University argues that it can make “conditional appointments,” but we don’t
believe the contract allows it.
• Don’t we need background checks to find sex offenders? No. Sex offenders
already belong to a public registry, so there’s no need for a full background check.
• What can we do to fight this? GEO is using the grievance procedure in our contract
to challenge the new background checks. We’ve also filed a request for information, to
try to find out what motivated the sudden change in policy.
If you’re denied a job as a result of a background check, if you encounter any
other trouble with the policy, or if you’d like to be involved in our efforts, please
don’t hesitate to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.