Last week, the University of Michigan published a new policy labeled as “Required Disclosure of Felony Charges and/or Felony Convictions” and numbered SPG 601.38 (click to read the policy).
As a former employee of the University, a formerly incarcerated person, and as a committed area criminal justice reform activist, I strongly oppose this policy and suggest that everyone else oppose this policy until a number of questions have been answered sufficiently.
I also want to remind EVERY student at the University of Michigan that one out of every two people in the United States has a family member who has been incarcerated. We live in a society that hands out felonies as if they were Pez candy (This could happen to you, you could become subject to this policy).
This policy was announced and implemented with zero public debate, zero input from the faculty, and with no discussion with the many faculty members throughout the University of Michigan system who specialize in criminal justice or public safety.
It is also a redundant (they already require disclosure on almost every application form) and counterproductive policy (education, health care, and employment all work against recidivism), and most likely will deter people with a felony background from even attempting to become part of the University community (and let’s not forget, felonies are overwhelmingly disparate in application against people of color).
You may be wondering why you should care?
- The University of Michigan is one of the largest employers in the state of Michigan
- The University of Michigan is the Flagship University in the state and many of its policies are modeled by other Universities throughout the state and nation.
- This policy will serve a strong deterrent to people with “felony” backgrounds from applying to work or to attend school at one of our most important state institutions
As everyone who does criminal justice reform work will tell you, policies like this are often an attempt to prove to society that an organization takes a particularly heinous alleged crime seriously and this policy is no exception. It is very likely that this policy is a “response” to the case of David Daniels, professor and famed opera singer at the University of Michigan.
Unfortunately, just like all the other times institutions react to stories like this with “heat of the moment” regulations or statutes, their “cure” seems poorly constructed and ill conceived.
So, I have some questions for the University, and until they are answered at length I would encourage every “University Constituent.”
1.How would this policy, in any way have prevented the David Daniels case?
2. You say (in the text) that the policy is designed to “better promote safety and security and mitigate potential risk,” can you provide any evidence explaining how requiring disclosure of felony charges within one week will accomplish that goal?
3. You say (in the text) that:
“It is important that the University’s academic, research, patient care and service missions are delivered in a safe and secure environment for all university constituents, including students, visitors, patients, and employees”
a. If a university constituent (student, visitor, patient, or employee) has been accused of a felony or has a criminal background, how does this policy create a “safe and secure environment” for them?
b. If someone considering becoming a constituent (student, visitor, patient, or employee) has been accused of a felony or has a criminal background, how does this policy create a “safe and secure environment” for them?
4. You say (in the text) that:
“This policy is intended to promote fair and consistent methods to obtain, analyze, apply and retain this information.”
a. What does that mean? What are fair and consistent methods? Given felony charges already being disparately levied against, for instance, people of color (and increasingly women of color), how does this policy not contradict your equality, diversity, and inclusion goals?
b. What does it mean to analyze and apply “this information?”
c. What do you mean by “retain this information?”
5. My current doctor is in the U of M health system and when I have to go to the hospital I go to the University of Michigan Hospital:
a. Are you concerned at all about deterring people from seeking medical care at your facilities?
b. Are you concerned about people with new felony charges not seeking care at your facilities?
6. You are one of the largest educational systems in the country, can you explain why you relate a “felony” background to the right to be educated? Will you offer alternative means of education for folks who are awaiting adjudication who you deem unworthy of being on one of your campuses?
7. You say in the text:
“University Human Resources will conduct a review of the disclosure and make an individualized assessment, consistent with business necessity, considering: the nature and gravity of the offense, the timeliness and accuracy of the disclosure, the relevancy of the felony charge/conviction to the role(s) held at the university by the individual reporting.”
Why aren’t you making transparent how you will be making those decisions? You are a state University, will it be necessary for us to FOIA what should be public information?
In a society increasingly stratified by incarceration, race, and class, a public education has traditionally been one of the great levelers. It is incredibly sad to see one of the great public universities in the United States decide to publicly celebrate that stratification (marking it in policy like Hollywood marks hands in concrete).
I am asking that everyone oppose this policy until the University has answered the above questions.
The University of Michigan Carceral State Project published this letter in opposition to this policy (you can signal your opposition at the end of the letter).
Thanks for reading!