Monday, November 02, 2009

More on DNA in Higher Ed

DNA Swab for Your Job
Many colleges now require criminal background checks of all new employees. But the University of Akron -- in what some experts believe is a first -- is not only requiring a criminal background check, but is stating that new employees must be willing to submit a DNA sample.

The requirement was added quietly and is now receiving attention -- and criticism -- because an adjunct faculty member at Akron quit this week, citing the new rules. 'It's not enough that the university doesn't pay us a living wage, or provide us with health insurance, but now they want to sacrifice the sanctity of our bodies. No,' said Matt Williams, who had been teaching four courses this semester in the communications and continuing education programs.

The new rules at Akron were adopted by the Board of Trustees in August, but most faculty members only learned of them in a recent e-mail list of announcements sent by the university to all employees. The rules state that background checks will be performed on all candidates selected for employment and that all offers will be 'contingent on successful completion' of the check. Further, they state that all applicants 'may be asked to submit a DNA sample.' The rules specifically state that all employees, including faculty members, are covered.

Laura Martinez Massie, spokeswoman for Akron, said that the university would not comment on the resignation of Williams. She also said that to date, the university has not collected DNA and has no plans to do so, but is 'merely reserving the right to do so.'

While some colleges have added background checks or tightened screening procedures in the wake of incidents involving their employees, Akron faculty leaders said that they knew of no recent event involving employees that would have suggested a need for such a policy. 'Any reasoning behind this is known to administrators only,' said Stephen H. Aby, a librarian and professor of bibliography at Akron. Aby is also a past president of the university's chapter of the American Association of University Professors (which represents full-time professors at the university) and has been investigating the issue for the AAUP there.

Many faculty members 'have been taken aback by the sweep and invasiveness' of the policy, Aby said. He added that the AAUP was not consulted in advance, and that some believe that imposing the rules now violates the union's contract. He said faculty members want to know why DNA would be collected, what would happen with the samples and how any information would be used -- and that the policy suggests complete discretion on all such matters would go to the administration.

While Aby said that he and his colleagues are bothered by the DNA requirement on principle, he also thinks it is a strategic mistake for the university.

'If a university adopts such an abhorrent policy, if you are competing for top faculty and these faculty members have options, I can't imagine this would be a good draw,' he said.

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