State System faculty union going to court over background checks
Union goes to court to block program
August 20, 2015 12:00 AM
The faculty checks are part of a wider State System of Higher Education policy being implemented on the 14 member campuses that requires criminal checks and child abuse clearances for all workers.
By Bill Schackner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities are implementing criminal background checks on all of their professors, even though most do not teach minors and are exempt from such checks under state child protection law, the faculty union says.
So on behalf of its members, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties has gone to Commonwealth Court, seeking an injunction that would block the program’s implementation across its 6,000-member bargaining unit.
The faculty checks are part of a wider State System of Higher Education policy being implemented on the 14 member campuses that requires criminal checks and child abuse clearances for all workers. Leaders expect to spend $4 million on an initial round of checks for 43,000 employees, student workers and volunteers, State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said Wednesday.
System officials, responding to the APSCUF court action, say there are many more minors who visit the 14 campuses than those enrolled in classes, from those taking part in summer academic camps and cultural events to those in other activities.
“This is an important effort, and one that already is well underway,” Mr. Marshall said.
Union leaders, who filed their action Tuesday, said management must negotiate with them before implementing any checks beyond those required under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law.
As amended in July, the law exempts employees on college campuses from checks if their direct contact with children under 18 is limited to “matriculated students enrolled with the institution” and “prospective students visiting a campus,” according to the APSCUF court petition seeking the injunction.
The effect is that nearly all of APSCUF’s members are exempt, the petition states, since “the ’children’ with whom faculty members routinely have contact are matriculated students.”
APSCUF filed an unfair labor practice charge Tuesday with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board after learning the checks were underway, but the issue goes beyond collective bargaining rights, said Kenneth Mash, APSCUF’s president and an East Stroudsburg University professor. He said requiring checks of faculty who do not work with minors is an unwise use of funds by a system in such serious financial difficulty that it is cutting budgets and contemplating faculty layoffs.
Citing enrollment data from the 109,600-student system, the union’s court filing asserts that the number of high school students taking courses at the 14 universities during 2014-15 was fewer than 760 and that less than 10 percent of APSCUF’s membership teaches those students.
“The question is — is that wise policy?’’ Mr. Mash asked.
Mr. Marshall responded that there are “tens of thousands of minors who spend time on our university campuses, as both students and visitors.”
He said the policy was developed before the July law change. Nevertheless, “We still believe that requiring the checks and clearances of all of our employees and volunteers is the best way to protect children and to assure the safest possible environment for everyone who comes onto any of our campuses.”
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