Changes to background questions for prospective undergraduates

Dear Colleagues:

As you may have seen, the Minnesota Daily published a story today about changes we are making to some questions on our undergraduate admission application. I write to provide a bit of additional context.

This past January, I asked the Admissions Executive Advisory Group to consider whether we could modify the criminal background question that has been on the University's application form since 2008. This is the question we have been asking: "Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense (felony, misdemeanor, or juvenile offense) other than a minor traffic violation, or is any such charge now pending against you?" In addition, we asked this: "Have you ever been expelled from, suspended from, or placed on probation at any high school or college for reasons of academic dishonesty or because of an offense that harmed or had the potential to harm others, or are you ineligible to return to any high school or college you have attended?" Answering "yes" to either of these questions did not automatically result in an applicant being turned down for admission, but there has been some concern about the extent to which these questions may have had a disparate impact on students' sense of access to the University.

The recommendation of the committee, which I have endorsed, is that these background questions be modified as follows:

"Yes or No: I have been expelled from, suspended from, or placed on probation at any high school or college for academic dishonesty.

Yes or No: I have been convicted of a felony, or I have felony charges pending against me at this time.

Yes or No: As an adult or juvenile, I have been found legally responsible for a sexual offense, or I have sexual offense charges pending against me at this time. "

If applicants respond "yes" to the above questions, they may also include a statement explaining why they believe this information should not be cause for concern about the safety or integrity of the University community.

These modifications will be implemented immediately, for the next round of applications. As before, applicants who answer "yes" to any of these questions will not be automatically denied admission; their cases will be, as before, discussed and evaluated by the Admissions Executive Advisory Committee.

That is a point that should be underscored: Academic admissibility is determined first, based on the student's application and academic credentials. If a student is deemed admissible but he or she answers affirmatively to any of these background questions, the Admissions Executive Advisory Committee considers the nature of the applicant's misconduct, its severity, the date of occurrence, the offense's possible relevance for particular academic programs, any evidence of rehabilitation, etc. The committee is concerned with fostering access to the University, but also with preserving campus safety and academic integrity. After a detailed individual review, the committee makes a recommendation of admission or denial to the Director of Admissions and the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

The Admissions Executive Advisory Group is working on a Frequently Asked Questions document that will detail this information on the application form, to make the application process as transparent as possible.

I would like to thank the Admissions Executive Advisory Group for their extensive work on this issue. I believe these changes are appropriate and align with our interests in accessibility, safety, and academic integrity.


Karen Hanson signature.

Karen Hanson,
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost

email sent June 3, 2015 to Twin Cities faculty and staff.