A registered sex offender and a convicted identity thief are among at least seven employees with felony convictions in Douglas County District Court working for Kansas University's Facilities Operations department.
In the process of investigating a claim that there was a convicted felon in a leadership position in the department, the Journal-World discovered felony records for the other employees. Six of the seven felons have completed their probation and no longer are under court supervision. No person in a leadership role had a felony conviction.
The seventh person, a custodian and a convicted identity thief, still owes more than $12,000 in restitution for applying for credit cards in the name of another person and then using them to ring up thousands of dollars in purchases. This revelation follows a university investigation this month into the release of hundreds of pages of personal documents found in trash and recycling bins - areas typically available to a custodian.
University hiring practices
All seven felony convictions came within the past 10 years, most within the past five.
Kansas University does not conduct criminal background checks of most employees, but KU spokeswoman Jill Jess said the university does review the sex offender registry and asks for voluntary disclosure of previous convictions before offering employment.
Jess noted, however, that those practices began recently. KU began checking the sex offender registry in 2003 and asking for conviction disclosure in 2004. The sex offender and identity thief were hired before those dates. Jess also said the identity thief already was a KU employee at the time of the conviction.
"The university does not require notification if current employees are convicted of a felony," Jess said. "If we do find out they have a conviction, they would not be terminated unless we determine their job performance would be hindered or compromised."
KU's human resources department has a policy that states a person's history of convictions can be considered when offering employment. However, Jess said, a previous conviction would not necessarily disqualify someone from employment.
"An employee who has a conviction but does not disclose it on the application would be subject to immediate termination," Jess said.
The sex offender's conviction stems from a 1998 incident in Baldwin City. The offender pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual battery and served time in prison. The employee works in Facilities Operations' lawn care department. State law does not restrict where sex offenders who are no longer on parole may work.
Though it does not conduct background checks, the university does maintain a list of registered offenders who are on campus, either as students or as employees. There are now four sex offenders - three students and the employee - on KU's list.
Gavin Young, a spokesman for the state Department of Administration, said no policy prevents a convicted felon from working for the state, except those seeking jobs in law enforcement and other similar positions.
"There is a spot on the application that asks if you've ever been convicted of a felony," Young said. "The standard process would be to verify everything on the application after a candidate is selected."
Lack of resources
The University of Missouri system recently expanded its policy to require background checks as part of the process for hiring all faculty - university staff have undergone background checks for a decade. At MU, a conviction does not necessarily disqualify someone from a job. The type of conviction and when it occurred are considered in relation to the job in determining whether someone should be disqualified because of the conviction.
That's not standard practice at other major research universities.
Representatives for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Iowa said their schools do not routinely conduct background checks.
"We do criminal background checks on people selected for security-sensitive positions," said Iowa spokeswoman Judie Hermsen. "We leave it up to the division hiring to determine whether the position is security-sensitive."
For those positions, employees are asked to provide their criminal conviction history and consent to a background check that goes back seven years, Hermsen said. Hermsen said sex offenders would only be identified through the background check process.
Jess, of KU, said workers who handle cash and provide child care are subject to background checks, in addition to police and safety employees. But, she said, the university can't conduct checks of all employees.
"Currently, resources have not been identified for a complete background check," Jess said. "We hire so many people each year."