Court will review case on university background checks
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s highest court will decide whether the system of state-owned universities trampled on faculty union rights by unilaterally requiring criminal background checks and reports of arrests for serious crimes within 72 hours.
The state Supreme Court this week accepted an appeal by the 14-school State System of Higher Education of a lower-court decision that said schools may only mandate the checks and arrest reports for teachers who are likely to encounter minor children not enrolled as freshmen or prospective students touring campus.
The policy, enacted in response to the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal at Penn State, was limited in an April decision by Commonwealth Court so that many professors would not be covered by it. The Supreme Court said it will review that decision and consider the schools’ argument that the policy “served the public interest in protecting minors.”
The universities have argued it was within their managerial powers to make all employees follow the policy, not just those who are likely to encounter children on campus. The unions say any such policy should be hammered out a part of contract negotiations.
“We are not saying that we don’t believe that there’s room for more background checks,” said Ken Mash, president of the union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, said Friday. “What we are saying very clearly is that when you have a contract, that has to be negotiated.”
State system spokesman Kenn Marshall said the schools were pleased the court accepted the case.
“The health, safety and welfare of every individual who comes onto our campuses, whether a student, staff member or a visitor, is paramount,” Marshall said. “We believe the Protection of Minors policy and all of its components is an important part of our effort to provide safe, secure campus environments.”