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University Of Washington Will Consider Criminal History In Application Process

KUOW Photo/Patricia Murphy

Correction 7/19/13: A previous online version of this story erroneously stated that the UW had been consulting Washington State University about this policy. In fact, it was Western Washington University that had been asking about criminal history on applications since 2007 and had been providing guidance to UW.

Prospective students will now be asked about their criminal past; specifically, if they’ve been convicted of sex crimes or violent felonies. UW Provost Ana Marie Cauce says it’s a safety issue. Cauce says protecting students and campus visitors is a priority.

“I think it’s important to remember that we have a vulnerable residential population," she said. "Part of their vulnerability isn’t just their age, but largely that the folks that are residential are away from home for the first time.”

An online petition against the university’s new policy has been signed by 3,600 people. Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell is also not convinced.

“If someone’s a sex offender they would be registered. They shouldn’t even have to ask that. So a good university will already know that. With respect to a violent felony offense, again, that would be public record."

Harrell chairs the committee that recently crafted a new law barring employers from screening applicants based on criminal history.

He’s also running for mayor.

Cauce says the UW’s policy was thoughtfully considered. She says potential students' past convictions won’t even be considered until after they pass through the initial screening.

“We are not closing the doors to anybody at this university.”

Cauce adds that if a student is denied acceptance due to their criminal past, they will be told and will have the option to appeal.

What’s less clear right now is just how the university plans to evaluate a potential student’s criminal past. Cauce says for guidance the UW has been consulting with Western Washington University. WWU has asked a similar question on its application since 2007.