By Marisa RussellASSISTANT COPY CHIEF
Late last month, two Long Island colleges and one in Queens made substantial alterations to their college applications. After a review made by Eric T. Schneiderman, the state attorney general, Dowling College, Five Towns College and St. Johns University will not require applicants to disclose prior arrests or previously expunged and pardoned charges, according to a Newsday article published on Oct. 27.
Previous to the change, the colleges were requiring students to declare all previous crimes that appeared on and off of their record. Despite the recent SAT optional adjustment made to Hofstra’s application process, the University did not change their application question regarding criminal background.
Susan Drucker, professor of communications in the Department of Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations gave legal reason for the changing of the question.
“Clearly on one hand, the University has a right to know relevant information in order to maintain a safe environment. Essentially you’re looking at this as a policy about campus safety and legal risks that the University would have if they didn’t [know],” said Drucker.
Legally, colleges are allowed to investigate previous history of a student in order to be aware of each student on campus. Current students, when asked, didn’t feel that the question was an invasion of privacy, but a way for the University to keep students safe.
“I want the school to know about and be prepared for students who might have a violent criminal background. Who on campus can say they wouldn’t mind a rapist, or someone who has assaulted someone on campus?” said Alexander Cain, sophomore information technology major.
With students of a variety of ages, every person at Hofstra has a varying potential of criminal history for the school to keep track of. The issue with the application changes from the three schools was the requirement that they disclose records that were previously expunged from their history.
Hofstra, ahead of the issue, already allowed students to omit declaring these records. Drucker compared the recently changed application of St. Johns to Hoftra’s application.
“Looking at the wording with St. Johns, they took a very broad approach to that question. It seems from the state attorney general side of things, they didn’t have a problem with schools that took a more specific approach,” said Drucker. “When you go back and look at the exact wording in the Hofstra application, the way that it’s written meets the narrow standards that the state attorney general was looking for.”
Hofstra’s application specifically states what should not be claimed as criminal background. Among these things “arrests that did not lead to conviction, sealed or expunged records, or pardoned records,” which was stated by Schneiderman as what should be removed from applications, in the Newsday article.
The real curiosity regarding the Hofstra application is how the information that is being collected is used.
“My concern is really how that information is being used,” said Drucker. “If the info is being used as a discrimination against admission or if this info is being used to provide counseling, or to flag students. Some universities have used it to admit students but to deny them on campus housing.”
Along with Drucker, current students are wondering if Hofstra is taking backgrounds into consideration when admitting students.
“Yeah, I would be curious to know how they use the information. I wonder if it is used to determine who gets scholarships or positions on campus. There is a lot they could do with that information,” said Cain.
While the information is necessary for public safety, according to Schneiderman it is “inconsistent with New York state law,” to deny a student admission based upon their criminal background.
But students are assuming, due to a lack of information given to them, that the information provided is partially a factor of admission.
“I think it probably does, in some level, influence whether you get in or not,” said Rachael Durant, junior public relations major. “We do things like the national debate and are very much in the public spotlight. You don’t ever want to be blindsided and I think that’s why they ask people.”
The admission office declined to comment. Therefore, clarification on what the information is used for was unable to be confirmed. But it is clear that students and even professors are looking to find out.
“The intent of the policy may be very rational, very practical, but the effect, intentionally or unintentionally could lead to discrimination,” said Drucker. She emphasized that the issue is one that is important, and interesting to institutions of higher education.
Though Hofstra complies with the rulings made by Schneiderman, it is not clear what the information is being used for. At the end of the day, students are glad to hear that information is being gathered to keep them safe, and to keep the Hofstra community committed to its purpose.
“I don’t think it should be a factor of whether you get in to this school, but I do think its important information,” said Durant. “Crime goes against the pride principles.”