By Lauren Offner
This semester the University of Wisconsin–Stout faculty were sent an email from Human Resources explaining they were overdue for criminal background checks. Even though background checks were originally conducted upon hire, it stated in the notice that they must resubmit a new application every four years. These new guidelines raised questions on campus that required a greater explanation as to why these new background checks are being implemented.
“It’s a result of the Penn State issue and Executive Order 54,” said Director of Human Resources and Affirmative Action Officer Debra Gehrke. “The Penn State issue propelled Governor Scott Walker to change Executive Order 54 and make background checks more robust and conducted every four years.”
Executive Order 54 is a mandate that requires all UW System employees to be trained on how to handle situations of child abuse or neglect if it were to happen on campus and to report it immediately. This stems from the incident that brought national attention to Pennsylvania State University in 2011 where longtime football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of sexually assaulting as many as eight young boys. Other Penn State faculty members were accused of knowing about the assaults and were found to be covering up the illegal activity and charged with perjury.
To prevent any further incidences of this nature, Walker made changes to the order that requires any employee of trust to participate in an updated screening every four years. This revised mandate also protects employees who report reasonable suspicions or make claims against other faculty members with rational evidence.
“We will conduct the checks if your job requires you to have access to minors on a regular basis,” said Gehrke. “The business office will be checked as well.”
This includes students that are employed by the university, but only if they are in a position of trust or have access to minors at any given time.
“We could have high school students visiting this campus and talk to any faculty member about a program in confidence at any given time,” said Gehrke.
Those found with any incriminating background checks will be investigated on an individual level.
“We won’t be considering minor things,” said Gehrke. “It would have to substantially relate to the work that they are doing. For instance, if an employee in a financial position was found previously to be embezzling money from their church, that would be something that would have to be investigated.”
Considering the budget cuts that have been passed by the state, there was some concern that this new system could impact the campus financially if more staff were to be hired for the updated mandate, but that turned out to be false.
“We aren’t adding new staff,” said Gehrke. “It will be absorbed by internal staff, and the new vendor we changed to for the background checks actually costs less than our prior vendor.”
Overall, university staff has been incredibly complient about the new system. There were some questions, but other than that, there have hardly been any complaints about the revised regulations. Student employees and UW–Stout staff can find out more about Executive Order 54 at http://www.uwstout.edu/hr/