Posted on March 14, 2019

Professors Call University’s ‘Felony Disclosure Policy’ Racist. Same Problems Exist in Title IX Trials.

Autumn Berend, The College Fix, March 14, 2019

The University of Michigan is facing criticism from professors in multiple departments for a new policy that requires employees to report felony charges and convictions since Feb. 1 to the administration.

They claim that the policy will disproportionately harm racial minorities, mirroring the problems in the criminal justice system.

{snip} History professor Matthew Lassiter, told MLive last month. “Everything we teach in history shows that you cannot create a non-biased process and impose it on a biased society.”

Critics have been silent about a related matter, however: the reported bias against racial minorities who are accused of sexual misconduct in Title IX proceedings, and the consequences that can trail them throughout their lives.

Asked if he saw similarities in disparate racial impact between the felony disclosure policy and Title IX proceedings, or believed they have relevant differences, Lassiter told The College Fix he did “not want to be quoted or referenced in a story comparing this policy to Title IX.”

Pressed on what concerned him, he wrote in an email that “I have not followed the Title IX debate closely enough, or researched it enough, to feel comfortable commenting on the comparison.”

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The public university’s new policy, which took effect Feb. 1, applies to faculty, staff, student employees such as graduate students, volunteers and visiting scholars, but not those covered by a “collective bargaining unit.”

It requires anyone with a felony charge or conviction to report it to the university within one week, though per the university’s staff handbook, it “does not automatically disqualify an individual from employment.”

Once the university has been informed, the human resources department will evaluate the information similar to how it conducts background screening before hiring employees.

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The university justifies the policy as a way to “maintain a safe community and prevent putting people at risk of harm,” according to its official publication. It emphasizes that misdemeanors are not covered by the policy, only felonies, which are “often punishable by jail time, probation and fines.”

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The steering committee for the Carceral State Project, which studies the consequences of “mass incarceration, policing, and immigration detention” in Michigan, circulated an open letter to the university for students, faculty and staff to sign.

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The open letter argued that the new policy added a “newly punitive element to already invasive and unjust policies that cause far more harm than good”: the mandatory disclosure of criminal record in both admissions and employment applications, sometimes from “otherwise sealed juvenile records.”

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“Taken together, these policies promote over-criminalization rather than public safety, reinforce the racial and economic inequalities in the criminal justice system and on our campus, and have other devastating collateral consequences,” the steering committee wrote.

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The steering committee said mandatory-disclosure policies have “devastating consequences for marginalized groups” because “communities of color are disproportionately policed, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted, and the poor are criminalized far more aggressively than those with means.”

According to Pew, in 2016 blacks represented 12 percent of the U.S. adult population but a third of the prison population, while Hispanics represented 16 percent of the adult population and 23 percent in prison. The gap between the percentage of whites and blacks in prison has been falling steadily, however, as fewer members of both groups go to prison.

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While they “strongly condemn any act of violence against any member of our campus community,” the committee members specifically condemn “the environment” in which reports of “sexual harassment and assault” have been “ignored and even excused on our campus and at others across the nation.”

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Ben Trachtenberg, University of Missouri law professor, wrote a law review article published in fall 2017 that argued not just Title IX enforcement but other disciplinary processes “probably” discriminate against minority students and suffer from “implicit bias.”

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Tractenberg also said the “broad and vague definitions of offenses, limited access to legal counsel, and irregular procedures” make it more likely that minority students will suffer “disproportionate suspensions and other punishment.”

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“[I]f we have learned from the public reckoning with the racial impact of over-criminalization, mass incarceration, and law enforcement bias, we should heed our legacy of bias against black men in rape accusations,” the law professor wrote in a New Yorker column.

“The ‘always believe’ credo will aggravate and hide this context, aided by campus confidentiality norms that make any racial pattern difficult to study and expose,” Suk Gersen wrote: “Particularly in this time of student activism around structural and implicit racial bias pervading campuses, examination of the racial impact of Title IX bureaucracy is overdue.”