A bill (Raised Bill No. 861) that will allow for background checks on higher education faculty is making its way to the Connecticut State General Assembly. Introduced by Senator Kevin Witkos, the bill currently reads
Any collective bargaining agreement entered into on or after October 1, 2016, that is applicable to faculty of an institution of higher education in the state shall include provisions enabling such institution of higher education or the constituent unit that has jurisdiction over such institution of higher education to (1) require a faculty member to submit, at any time prior to promotion, to a state and national criminal history records check conducted in accordance with section 29-17a of the general statutes, and (2) discipline a faculty member for any criminal conduct on the part of the faculty member while employed by such institution of higher education by means including, but not limited to, termination of employment.”
Senator Witkos, ranking member of Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, said in an interview with local TV station WFSB that he wants to make this issue of background checks part of upcoming contract negotiations for faculty in higher education. Witkos introduced the bill in response to a recent report about an English professor at Central Connecticut State University whom the Board of Regents promoted to full professor while he was in jail for probation violation (the BOR was unaware that he was in jail). Witkos said in his interview that “Everybody that’s involved in education gets a background check…but what happens in the college system is that once you’re in, you’re in, without and checks and balances. This bill would provide those…and would give administrators a chance to remove a professor that really does a disservice to the college system.”
The bill raises serious concerns. As written, it is broad and far reaching, and seems to conflict with both the collective bargaining process (as the bill mandates procedure rather than allowing both sides to come to an agreement on language) and with promotion and tenure processes. There are procedures in place to deal with the misconduct of faculty members, separate from the P&T process. The bill also does not define criminal conduct, and nor does it distinguish between a crime that could affect a faculty member’s ability to perform his or her job and one that does not. The bill also unfairly singles out faculty. Finally, it shifts punishment for criminal activity out of the courts.
Despite these concerns, the bill looks as though it will make it out of committee. Even if nothing comes of this bill, this issue will likely figure prominently in upcoming collective bargaining discussions, which begin in October 2015. The current CSU-AAUP contract (which covers faculty at the four state universities in Connecticut) has a provision that covers the discipline process, but which is tied to a faculty member’s ability to perform his or her duties (and the process rests on the notion of “adequate cause”). Other CBAs likely have similar language.