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New Law Means FBI Checks for More College Students

A new law that gives the North Dakota University System
wide-ranging authority to conduct FBI criminal background checks could affect
as many as 4,000 students and 800 employees in the state, officials say.

The law passed by the Legislature earlier this year affects
a number of agencies, ranging from the real estate commission to the racing

A tentative list of university system positions where
applicants would be required to undergo background checks includes employees
who handle financial information, computer records or medical records; workers
with extensive access to buildings such as custodians; employees with extensive
contact with students such as counselors and coaches; and top university

Background checks are being considered for students in
fields dealing with vulnerable populations, such as education, physical therapy
and social work, university system officials said.

Stacey Holte, an elementary education major at the
University of North Dakota, said she isn’t bothered by the idea of the
fingerprint-based check.

“In any job where you’re going to be working with
children, it’s a good thing to keep them safe, and this doesn’t really hurt
anyone,” Holte said.

University system officials are still debating the scope of
the background checks as well as other questions, such as whether the checks
will be mandatory or optional and at what point in a student’s education the
checks will be performed, said system attorney Pat Seaworth.

Rep. Eliot Glassheim, D-Grand Forks, said he worries that
campus background checks might go too far.

“All I know is when you’re in public life, if there’s
an opportunity to protect yourself more, you’ll usually take advantage of
it,” Glassheim said. “So, my sense is there will be more background
checks required than are necessary.”

The new law was inspired by the killing last September of
Valley City State University student Mindy Morgenstern. Sen. Larry Robinson,
D-Valley City, who is the school’s director of university advancement, was the
bill’s chief sponsor.

“The incident obviously caused a great deal of concern
statewide and was on everyone’s radar screen,” he said. “What really
surprised many of us was the lack of a comprehensive system of background
checks in place in North Dakota.”

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he doesn’t view the
background checks as an invasion of privacy because all of the criminal
information the checks reveal is publicly available. The FBI simply gathers the
information in a central database.

“What we’re talking about are people’s criminal
convictions,” Stenehjem said. “A person with enough resources and
time would be able to go around the country and get these records. These are
not personal details about anybody. If I’m living in a dormitory, I’d like to
know if my RA (resident attendant) is a convicted sex offender or a

UND Provost Greg Weisenstein helped compose the list of
academic programs at that school where students will undergo criminal
background checks. He described the list as a delicate balance between
addressing security concerns and not encroaching on the privacy of students.

“Optimally, we want that balance to be right,”
Weisenstein said. “Right now, we’re gaining some experience with this on a
national level, and with experience, we’ll know better where that balance
should rest.”

Information from: Grand Forks Herald,

– Associated Press

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