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issue. Like you, I am committed to openness and transparency, although it has been difficult for me to figure out how to have a dialogue when in some cases I have an e-mail address but the individuals behind it remain anonymous, and in others, I have the name of individuals, but no e-mail or other address to respond to. But, let’s keep trying. I interpreted the fact that I received no response to my inquiries about dialogue for several weeks as suggesting that your group had no interest in dialogue. Apparently you believed that I wasn’t interested in engaging either. I’m very pleased this period, and apparent misunderstanding on both sides, is behind us. The number of students and faculty who were engaged in discussions and debate about this over the last year might not have been large, given the size of our overall student population, but the groups I worked with were elected student representatives and representatives of our elected faculty senate. Having worked with both these groups on numerous issues, I can assure you that they not only have very independent minds (there are a host of issues on which we continue to not see eye to eye), but they are also very concerned with issues of social justice and inclusivity on campus. Indeed, it was this group of elected students and faculty representatives that were able to put together a successful coalition leading to our adoption of a diversity requirement for our undergraduates – a goal that had eluded the UW for at least two decades. In addition to working with these groups, because racial bias continues to taint our criminal justice system, I also had repeated discussions with the Student Advisory Board of the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity as well as with faculty who have specific expertise on race and criminal justice issues. Some of these discussions were covered in the University of Washington Daily, which is widely distributed across campus, as early as February 2013 (see http://dailyuw.com/archive/2013/02/07/faculty-administration/uw-considers-adding-criminalbackground-question-undergrad#.UedHVxbvxmA). In the end, we received support from the ASUW student senate, the OMAD Student Advisory group and the Faculty Council on Academic Standards (FCAS) for asking one question about criminal background on the application focusing on violent felony offenses and registered sex offenders. (I do not believe we would have received support from these groups to ask the types of broader questions about criminal background histories that are asked by most other four year colleges and universities with significant residential components, nor would I have proposed that we do so). I would be happy to engage in further dialogue about this and I have already set aside some times, and will set aside others, to engage in discussions with interested students, faculty, staff and community members about how to move forward with implementation. There are also tentative plans for a broader forum on campus, related to this issue, focusing on juvenile justice and I have lent my support to such an event. I would be happy to invite a member(s) from your group to these discussions if you identify a representative(s). We are in the process of developing guidelines about how we will screen those who answer yes to the question about criminal background. These guidelines will be in writing before any
screening begins. The question about criminal background has been/will be removed from the on-line program application. It had been included on the application in error, without my knowledge. As you rightly point out, we not yet ready for implementation. We have been in contact with WWU, that now is also asking a more narrow question about criminal background. Based on their experience, we, believe there is likely to be very, very few potential admits who answer yes to this question. We do not anticipate any additional costs related for this screening. We take pride in the fact that we do "holistic admissions," which already entails individualized reading of all our applications. It also means that when there is information on applications that we are not sure how to interpret information (e.g. what a grading system from an out of state school we’ve never gotten an applicant from might mean) we do additional research and sometimes ask for outside consultation. We will do the same when we are dealing with criminal background information that we are not sure how to interpret. You are, of course, correct in pointing out that laws, and criminal classifications, vary by state.
It is worth noting that we already have experience dealing with questions about student criminal background, as some of our professional schools – including our law school and some of our health sciences schools and colleges – are required to ask some questions about criminal background by their accreditation agencies or related to their student’s clinical placements. We have quite a number of examples of students who had such backgrounds, were admitted, and are now successful professionals that we are proud to call UW alumni.
The response to your petition surely shows that there is a community off and on campus, and in and out of state, concerned about fairness in admissions for those who have been involved in the criminal justice system. I am pleased by that knowledge. When the article about students with sex offenses in their background on our campus appeared in local papers, I was frankly disturbed by the characterizations of those with criminal backgrounds made by some in the commentary sections. This was followed by a petition urging us to admit more victims of sexual violence instead of perpetrators of such violence. Some of the commentary related to that petition was likewise disturbing. I have spent much of my career working with at-risk youth and am well aware that people can and do change, and that the context surrounding criminal actions can be more nuanced than the mere classification of a crime. I am also a staunch believer in higher education as a pathway for positive change. As you can see, I do read public commentary related to UW actions or policy. Quite frankly, I am more influenced by the quality of the comments than by the number of responses. In the case of Huskies for Fairness, both were impressive. However, it is also clear from the comments, that many believed that we would be doing fairly universal criminal background checks and/or that we would be asking questions about any criminal activity, including misdemeanors, drug use, or petty crime and that applicants with any criminal backgrounds would be screened out. So, it is hard to tell how many of those that signed and commented would have done so, at least in the same manner, if your petition had informed them about what we are actually planning to do. For example, one of the signers, who identifies himself as a graduate of our law school, suggests that rather than asking broad questions about criminal backgrounds we should ask only about felonies and sex offenders -- which is exactly what we do. Others talk about how unfair it is for someone who has been arrested for nothing more than drug use to be screened out - and, of course, I agree. I also agree with the many who note that everyone deserves a second chance, and that we should
support those who have served their time for crimes to re-integrate into society. The addition of our narrow question about criminal background, and our commitment to keeping the doors to a UW education open even to those who do have these backgrounds but are committed to bettering their lives, is consistent with those goals. I also share the concern of many petition signatories about how the criminal justice system differentially deals with ethnic minorities and we will be closely monitoring the decisions we make about those with criminal backgrounds with regard to this. Such information will be made public. While some of the public commentary related to your petition is, in my opinion, a bit off base, as is the case in every petition I’ve ever read, the majority of the concerns expressed by signatories are ones that I share. Moreover, these are exactly the concerns that we debated, openly, in deliberations that were informed by our representative student government and faculty senate groups. What we are trying to do is to balance those concerns against the real and perceived safety concerns of our students and their families, and of our faculty and staff. We are not a traditional workplace, we are also a residential setting -- a residential setting that serves a population that can be considered "vulnerable," in that many of those in our campus residences are living away from home, on their own, for the first time. And, while college campuses, including all three campuses of the University of Washington, are generally safe places, for many of our students this is their first experience with an urban setting and their safety concerns are not ones that I can dismiss lightly. When we do admit students onto our campuses that have histories of (sometimes repeated) violent, felony-level crimes or sex offenses, I believe it should be a conscious and deliberative decision. One that is informed by the concerns that you appropriately raise, and one that is openly monitored, evaluated, and re-visited not only after the first year of implementation, but repeatedly over time. I welcome input from a member(s) of your group as we develop that deliberative process. Please do let me know who to contact for further conversations.
I very much appreciate your openness to further conversation and this opportunity to respond. Thank you,
Best, Ana Mari
Ana Mari Cauce Provost University of Washington
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