Leaders of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities say it would help safeguard children, but the faculty union says it exceeds what child protection law requires and wastes public funds because very few of its professors work with minors.
Regardless of which is true, one thing is certain about an effort to start requiring background checks on all of its professors: The move by the State System of Higher Education is on hold after a Commonwealth Court judge on Thursday upheld the union’s injunction request.
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties asked the court in August to intervene. It said most of its members, given their duties, are exempt from the checks and that the State System must bargain with the union first.
In his ruling, Judge Dan Pellegrini said all system employees who teach any course identified as having dual enrollees (those also in high school) must undergo the checks, along with any employee who comes in direct contact with minors regularly.
Otherwise, he said, the State System is enjoined from requiring all faculty to undergo background checks, pending either an arbitration decision or a ruling from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board on whether checks not required by law can be imposed on workers by management.
Reacting to the ruling, State System spokesman Kenn Marshall said 1,800 faculty checks had already been done. No problems were found with any of those individuals.
“It is disappointing that APSCUF sees this as a bargaining issue rather than as an important tool for enhancing safety and security of everyone who comes onto our campuses, especially the most vulnerable,” the system said in a statement.
The union said it, too, values safety and security but noted the judge’s order that both sides work toward agreement reflects that this is a labor issue. “If the system really cared about safety and security, they would have dotted their I’s and crossed their T’s before just simply implementing this policy,” said union president Ken Mash.
Thursday’s decision covers 5,000 faculty across the 109,000-student system. Its schools in Western Pennsylvania are California, Clarion, Edinboro, Indiana and Slippery Rock universities.
The faculty checks are part of a wider State System policy that requires criminal checks and child abuse clearances for all workers at the 14 schools and the system’s headquarters. State System officials had said they expected an initial round of checks on 43,000 employees, student workers and volunteers to cost $4 million.
The union has cited data suggesting that fewer than 800 students in the State System are high school students. System officials, responding to the union’s injunction request, asserted that many more minors visit the 14 campuses than those who take classes, citing children involved in summer academic camps, cultural events and other activities.
The law requiring the worker scrutiny is the 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 State System policy was developed before the latest law change.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Published September 17, 2015 4:31 PM