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Background checks could provide extra protection

On Feb. 12, 2010, officials say Harvard-educated neurobiologist Amy Bishop pulled a gun and shot six co-workers at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Three died and three were rushed to the hospital in critical condition. According to the Associated Press, in 1986 Bishop shot and killed her 18-year-old brother at their Massachusetts home. It was ruled an accident by local police. Later it was discovered that Bishop had been a key suspect in an attempted bomb plot at Harvard in 1993 after a package was delivered to a professor at Boston’s Children’s Hospital.

Many cities and school districts have begun implementing their own investigations of staff. Tyler Junior College has always done background checks for security sensitive positions involving money and higher-level positions, but lately all potential full-time employees have started undergoing background checks.

All employees and student employees who want to work for TJC go through the same process. Kevin Fowler, executive director of Human Resources at TJC, said that by treating everyone the same – it prevents someone from feeling singled out.

The background check was implemented for all employees and student employees on Oct. 1, 2009. There are a few things that would prevent a person from being hired at TJC. For example, a candidate whose felonies involve money wouldn’t be placed in a position that deals with currency. The college would also look at crimes against children due to the after-hour programs on campus offered for small children.

Background checks are a first layer of security on campus, Fowler said. He added that instructors are role models for the student body, and that there are a number of things considered when hiring someone including personality, integrity, credibility, accomplishments in their field and their ability to communicate with students.

At school we should raise the level of expectation not only for the faculty and staff, but also for the students. Maybe TJC should also do background checks on students – not as a condition of enrollment, but to make sure campus is safe. If a history of violence shows up, there should be a way of informing instructors just in case something occurs in class, it would allow the teacher a head start on how to deal with the person.

For the time being, TJC is not currently doing background checks on students attending classes. The reason is we are a second-chance campus meaning that we are an open enrollment institution that anyone can attend regardless of background.

Certainly some applying for jobs here may feel uneasy with these new procedures, but they are for everyone’s safety.

This shooting by a professor in comparison to the usual student shootings has raised concerns for teachers and students across America. In April 2007 at Virginia Tech University, a student killed 32 people and committed suicide. In 1999, two teenagers went on a rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, gunning down 13 people before killing themselves. This just proves that mental instability is an issue that many campuses face.

The challenge becomes allowing people the freedom to change their ways and move forward in their lives while keeping those around them safe.

Background checks are a way to add a layer of safety. While TJC is only doing checks on employees, it may want to consider doing checks on students as well to let those around them know whom they are dealing with. Doing so may also attract a different breed of teacher and student.

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