Pennsylvania State University’s applicants for faculty positions now will have to undergo a criminal background check. The new procedure, which could have repercussions throughout higher education, was instituted after the revelation that one of its faculty was a paroled triple murderer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Penn State says it was exploring the feasibility of such a system even before learning that assistant education professor Paul Krueger, employed at the university since 1999, had been convicted for the 1965 murders of three fishermen near Corpus Christi, Texas. Like most universities, Penn State has not asked teaching applicants about past criminal offenses. The university says it only learned of Krueger’s background in the last several weeks, though he worked for four years and was director of the Institute for Research in Training and Development.
Krueger resigned on Friday after he and the university agreed it was no longer practical for him to remain in the position, campus officials said. Krueger, now 55, was a teenager when he was convicted in the triple shootings and sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in 1979 and since has held various positions in academia and the corporate world.
A lawyer for the American Association of University Professors, which is monitoring the Penn State case and the national debate, wondered whether schools imposing checks will make proper distinctions between types of offenses. “Should a youthful drug use offense bar somebody from getting a faculty appointment? What about a ticket for reckless driving?” asked staff counsel Donna Euben. “What about someone who has filed for bankruptcy? Should that preclude somebody from teaching American literature?”
Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education, believes colleges are moving toward more background checks of all kinds after lagging behind industry for years. He said the decision by Penn State, one of the nation’s largest universities, has implications beyond its own campuses. “The school’s size and the uniqueness of the case provide a national prominence that will cause other [schools] that might not have thought about the issue to raise it on their own campuses,” he said.