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Colleges put more emphasis on background checks in wake of Sandusky case

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Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
 

Volunteers and employees at colleges will be under new scrutiny prompted by the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal at Penn State.

The arrest last fall of the former assistant football coach, who is awaiting sentencing for sexually abusing boys on and around campus, spurred colleges and universities to take another look at employee policies, said Ada Meloy, general counsel for the Washington-based American Council on Education.

In July, Penn State expanded its requirements for criminal and child abuse background checks to unpaid and third-party contractors.

Elsewhere some of the impacts have been subtle reminders of existing policies, such as a memo that John Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, sent to the 14 state schools last fall.

System spokesman Kenn Marshall said Cavanaugh proposed no policy changes but reminded campus officials that anyone working with minors must undergo the Department of Public Welfare's child-abuse background checks as well as state and federal criminal background checks.

Robert Morris University in Moon formed a task force last fall to review all clearances involving students, staff and volunteers on campus, spokesman Jonathan Potts said.

Although RMU has required state and federal background checks on prospective employees since 2007, Potts said the school recently added background checks for sorority and fraternity advisers who are not university employees, and is weighing additional training on incident reporting for students, faculty and volunteers.

The school also expanded access to its EthicsPoint hotline, originally a faculty reporting mechanism, to students and the general public.

State law requires certain school employees to report allegations of child abuse to authorities.

“I think the widespread publicity about the Penn State situation has caused a broad review in higher education of when and where there are minors on campuses and an increased attention to the type of background checks that are done,” she said.

Duquesne University spokeswoman Bridget Fare said all full-time employees at the Uptown school now undergo a national criminal background check, including sex and violent offender registries and credit checks as well as employment verification, education, license and reference checks. The school is adding those background checks for part-time employees.

“After the Penn State situation, we began a comprehensive review of volunteers on campus and found that most of them working with minors already had clearances, and in the cases where they didn't, we required them to,” Fare said.

Officials at the University of Pittsburgh declined to discuss any policy changes.

“For years, the University of Pittsburgh has required a variety of background checks and clearances under appropriate circumstances,” said Pitt spokesman John Fedele.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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