State law requires background checks for college employees

In the Pennsylvania State Act 153, passed in the fall of 2014, new and current employees working at colleges and universities will be required to complete three checks: an FBI-based fingerprinting, state criminal record check and a child abuse registry check through the Department of Human Services.

For the time being, new hires must undergo this process as they are being hired but all current employees have until the end of the 2015 calendar year to receive these clearances. Every employee is also required to have these checks repeated every three years.

Previous to this act, Allegheny College required a basic background check for new hires. Individuals who would be working with finances would require a credit check and any positions involving transportation would have a preliminary driver’s license check as well, according to Sue Stuebner, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the college.

The real challenge exists with completing the checks on all current employees before the end of 2015. The college employs approximately 500 faculty and staff members as of current, according to Stuebner and Provost Linda DeMeritt.

In addition to faculty and staff, volunteers for the college and some student workers will have to undergo the same process, but the college is currently working with legal counsel to determine how far this act stretches.

There’s no doubt that the college is committed to being a safe place for minors, but this feels like the law that was passed puts a really extraordinary burden on our individual employees as well as on the college.

— Sue Stuebner

“We have some alumni who do some things for us on behalf of the college, it’s not clear whether they have to be checked only if they live in Pennsylvania,” Stuebner said. “We have alums who do college fairs for us in California: do we have to require the people who live outside of Pennsylvania [to do that] because it’s a Pennsylvania law?”

Aside from volunteers, resident advisers will also be involved in the process, as they will be living in dorms, where minors may potentially live. Given that Act 153 was partially a reaction to the Sandusky case at Pennsylvania State University, the law aims to check any organizations that have interactions with anyone 17 and under.

“A few of our full-time students are under 18, we obviously have admissions’ prospective students on campus, we have the two daycares up at Oddfellows and we’ve got summer programs that come through in the summertime,” Stuebner said.

Aside from RAs, Pat Ferrey, director of Human Resources, believes that student workers such as tutors and students who host prospective students may also require clearances, depending on the response from Allegheny’s legal counsel.

“I don’t think it’s going to be all student workers, but maybe someone who is a tutor, where you’re working very closely one-on-one with other students, might have to go through it,” Ferrey said. “Right now, we’re still in the process of working with our legal counsel to identify those types of positions that we have to background check.”

With this in mind, the college feels some pressure in implementing the change, according to Stuebner.

“There’s no doubt that the college is committed to being a safe place for minors, but this feels like the law that was passed puts a really extraordinary burden on our individual employees as well as on the college,” Stuebner said.

In obtaining clearances for more than 500 individuals and the undetermined number of student workers who will need to go through the process, the college wonders if the Dec. 31, 2015 deadline provides enough time. Currently, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania is lobbying the state to give institutions until the end of 2016 to have current employees finish obtaining background checks.

Ferrey, who went through the process herself as a trial run, said that the process only took about two weeks from start to finish. However, she believes that when the number of individuals going through the process increases as drastically as expected, it might take longer.

“There are going to be major problems, though, if every single employee and student who is identified needs to get these clearances by the end of this calendar year…just because the sheer volume,” DeMeritt said.

Because there is only one location in Meadville to have fingerprinting done, at Bethesda Children’s Home, the college is also looking into becoming a private cogent site, a location where 3M Cogent fingerprinting can officially be done. However, this would pose an additional cost for the college on top of obtaining the clearances, which the school has decided to handle rather than having individuals pay for the testing.

Each person’s three clearances will cost the school $62 dollars, according to Ferrey. On top of that cost, the system and equipment for fingerprinting is approximately $5,000 in addition to training and staffing costs.

“While it seems like a great solution to have our own security people doing it, that’s a big cost for us in addition to the $62 for each employee,” DeMeritt said. “We don’t really know if our security people have that much extra time so we might have to hire a new employee.”

The college would also still have to pay money directly to the company, 3M Cogent, to use the database and run each test, which may not sufficiently reduce the cost and time of going to another site for fingerprinting.

Throughout the process, the college will be contracting the work through an outside company endorsed by AICUP. According to Stuebner, the outside company, the Credit Bureau of York, will facilitate the completion and organization of the records, to help Allegheny’s human resources staff of only three individuals.

Regardless, the most pressing challenge in the Act 153 implementation for the college will be the timeline instituted by the state lawmakers and Stuebner hopes AICUP will be successful in lobbying the state to postpone the date.

“We’re a small college, I can’t imagine trying to do this at a larger institution,” Stuebner said. “It’s going to be a real push [to finish by December] and you know, we certainly want to comply with the law but we want to do so in a reasonable way with our faculty and staff so right now we’re trying to get as much information as we can so we can define the process as clearly as possible for everybody involved.”