“The collection and distribution of prejudicial information about admissions applicants’ prior convictions–and worse yet, institutional disciplinary actions–is a highly discriminatory practice that runs counter to the nation’s efforts to move toward a more just society.

First, past convictions–and, even more so, past disciplinary findings–are far from uniformly codified or easily decipherable. The vast majority of colleges do not seek, and have no internal processes to interpret or act on, the highly disparaging information distributed to them. In the absence of proper training and institutional intentionality about how to understand or handle the information, personal bias and process-conservatism can turn even the most innocuous negative entry into a reason to exclude people “just to play it safe.”

Second, the nation’s criminal justice system and our educational disciplinary processes continue to disproportionately entangle minority communities, students with disabilities, and low-income families without the means to navigate their complexities. The pointless distribution of often non-actionable and meaningless information about applicants has an adverse and disparate impact on the affected communities, and constitutes a major violation of hard-fought civil rights.

Third, even in cases of past criminal convictions, applicants have already been punished in accordance with the judicial system’s best judgment, and are entitled to live in liberty in our society. It is both counterintuitive and counter-productive to put additional barriers on their path to full rehabilitation through education.

Fourth, the collection and distribution of the information about prior convictions and findings is often a knee-jerk reaction to legitimate demands for campus safety. Institutions certainly have a responsibility to protect the campus community from predictable threats, but the wholesale collection of random prior “bad acts” hampers such efforts by inundating officials with negative information with little predictive value for threat assessment purposes.

Education is universally viewed as a transformative experience that improves both the individual students and their communities. Broader access to higher education for underserved groups benefits the entire nation and should be a priority and a common goal for all of us. Exclusionary and discriminatory practices like wholesale collection and distribution of adverse information about applicants serve no educational purpose, but act as insurmountable barriers to a better future for many prospective students.”

March 28, 2016