Colleges to Obama: Sorry, but we'll keep asking applicants if they have rap sheets

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Friday June 03rd, 2016

Would the White House get rid of this question on its own job applications?

Here's news: The Obama Administration thinks minorities are more likely than other people to be criminals. How do I know that? Because they said so. It's their rationale for pressuring colleges to stop asking applicants if they have criminal records. This question, the White House says, puts minorities at a disadvantage.

Oh? Don't talk to me about it. You got it straight from thhe top. Filter out people with rap sheets and you make your campus whiter. And nothing in academia could be worse than that.

Actually, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it doesn't appear that college administrators feel that way. They'll worship at the altar of political correctness at just about every turn, but they draw the line at getting mugged or killed. Or maybe more to the point, they'd rather know what they're dealing with and then decide whether to make it a factor in admissions decisions, rather than close their eyes and ears in the service of some ideological imperative:

Among public schools, 43 percent of directors surveyed by the organization last year wanted full reporting of all infractions; 46 percent wanted at least some disclosure and only 11 percent were in favor of not asking applicants about legal or disciplinary records. Administrators at private institutions were even more in favor of disclosure, with just 1 percent saying no such questions should be asked. reached out to numerous private and public higher education schools across the country, with mixed response.

The University of Idaho has no current plans to stop asking about applicants' criminal background. But Director of Admissions Cezar Mesquita stressed that a checked box doesn’t mean a dead end.

“We weigh the seriousness of any offenses and consider them holistically in conjunction with other application information provided,” Mesquita said.

The University of Washington asks applicants if they have been convicted of a violent felony and if he or she is required to register as a sex offender. Officials say it does not result in discrimination.

“We have tracked effects of this policy over the years, and there is no evidence that students who report on these backgrounds have been disadvantaged in the admissions process,” school spokesman Norman Arkans said.

Here's a question for the White House - one whose answer is so obvious it almost seems unfair to ask it, and yet it's totally fair because they're the ones trying to push this issue on the colleges: When people apply for a job working at the White House, or even want to be part of a tour or guest group coming for a visit, they have to pass a criminal background check. Anyone who's ever attended a function there knows that. In fact, I'll tell you a personal story:

I attended an event there in 1999 with a client who was getting an award. I knew many of the client's employees very well, and as the event proceeded, several of us noticed that Secret Service agents were keeping a very close eye on one particular employee.

"Hey (the guy's name)," I asked. "You notice those two are watching you like a hawk?"

"Oh yeah."

"What's that all about?"

"I used to be in the Black Panthers, man."

This guy had long since become an evangelical Christian, and his radical days were far behind him. But he understood how it is. If that's on your record, you're going to get extra scrutiny. He considered himself fortunate they didn't bar him from attending at all.

So what's good for colleges is good for the White House, right? No more checking into people's criminal backgrounds. That would be unfair and discriminatory! This is nonsense, of course. The White House has a perfect right - indeed, a duty - to do these checks to protect the life of the president and others who could otherwise come under threat. In the case of my long-ago colleague, they made a decision to let him in but keep an eye on him. Knowing the guy in question, I can tell you that was the right decision. At that point in his life he wasn't a threat to anyone.

But with what they found in his background, it behooved them to be careful.

So why can't colleges make the same judgment with information they gather on applicants? They may or may not choose to disqualify students on the basis of a criminal record, but they have to first receive the information so they can then make a call on what to do with it. What Obama wants to do is deny them the information at the outset. No wonder they're resisting. Obama himself would never embrace the same policy, and it's absurd that he expects anyone else to.

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