And in the wake of iPodgate, UNCW prepares to release a yak-fest on student safety…

UNC panel previews safety ideas

Background checks suggested, with limits

By JANE STANCILL, Staff Writer

UNC campuses can get tougher in their admissions practices to keep out potentially dangerous students but should stop short of background checks for everyone, members of a campus safety task force say.

The group, formed this summer after the slayings of two UNC-Wilmington students, is exploring ways to better screen applicants at the state’s 16 public university campuses.

Among the panel’s preliminary recommendations Monday:

* Required character references for prospective UNC system students.

* Stern warnings to applicants about the consequences of lying about their criminal past.

* Limited background checks for those whose history raises red flags.

The two suspects in the UNCW cases were students who had lied on their applications about past crimes.

Beyond better screening, campuses might be asked to conduct safety assessments, analyze specific threats and tailor prevention programs accordingly. All UNC system students could be required to take a safety course that would go beyond “Don’t walk alone at night.” The course would explore anger management, domestic violence and stalking, for example.

“It ought to be something that everyone is exposed to early on when they arrive on campus,” said Skip Capone, UNC-Greensboro general counsel.

Also Monday, one of two UNC-Wilmington safety task forces released a preliminary report recommending the university offer more violence prevention programs. Among the ideas: a prominent UNCW Web page devoted to the subject — a resource that professors would be asked to promote in classes. The university could do a better job advertising its programs to students, including an existing rape aggression defense course taught by campus police.

Records checks posed

But since Jessica Faulkner of Cary was raped and killed May 5 and Christen Naujoks was shot to death June 4, the talk has centered on background checks of students.

The suspect in Faulkner’s case, Curtis Dixon of Charlotte, failed to disclose a misdemeanor larceny conviction to UNCW. He is charged with rape and murder.

John Peck, the suspect in Naujoks’ killing, lied to the school about a conviction for sexual assault on a former girlfriend. Peck, who eventually shot himself during a chase with police, had dated Naujoks. She had reported him for stalking and obtained a restraining order.

UNCW officials were flooded with questions from parents about why the school did not conduct criminal checks of potential students.

Such checks are rare, said George Dixon, a former admissions director at N.C. State University who now works as a consultant to the UNC system.

Few campuses do

Among 40 public campuses that responded to an informal query from UNC, only two said they did such checks — Iowa State University and North Dakota State University. UNC campuses routinely ask applicants about criminal convictions other than minor traffic violations. Many public U.S. universities don’t even do that, Dixon said.

UNC relies on students to be honest. In the future, panel members said, the universities should take a closer look at student claims on applications, particularly when there are gaps in school attendance.

Among the possibilities: checking a prospective student against a UNC database to make sure the student had not been expelled by another campus, and checking against a national database to see whether the student had attended college anywhere else.

The panel also recommended training to help admissions officers recognize signs of trouble in a student’s background.

But the group was opposed to widespread criminal background checks of all students or groups of students. That could anger applicants and parents and open the university to accusations of discrimination.

“We’re not going to do profiling,” said Leslie Winner, vice president and general counsel for the UNC system. “It’s very clear we’re not going to do that.”

Admissions officials, could, however, order a background check if a student’s record raises questions.

The task force is expected to complete its work this fall, with final recommendations likely in October. The UNC Board of Governors and individual campuses will then decide how to proceed.

In the meantime, the group will study data from campus police agencies to determine the extent of student-on-student violent crime. The reality is the numbers are probably very small, said Steve Farmer, senior associate admissions director at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Campuses are very safe places,” he said. “They’re safer than the communities that surround them, by far. … How much further can we reduce that? How much safer can we be?”

Oh, UNC, get with the times man… Give ’em all iPods!

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