In response to concerns made by critics, three New York colleges have abolished the crime query on their applications this past October. Students who have completed the Common Application for college admissions are probably familiar with the question: “Have you ever been adjudicated guilty or convicted of a misdemeanor, felony, or other crime?”
The three colleges are St. Johns University, Five Towns College, and Dowling College. St. Johns and Five Towns do not use the Common Application, but Dowling does.
Twenty-five out of the 28 Jesuit institutions in the United States use the Common Application. Two of the three Jesuit universities that do not use the Common Application (Loyola University Chicago and Rockhurst University) have a similar crime query. Georgetown University, another university that does not use the Common Application, is the only Jesuit institution that does not include the question on their application.
In total, 27 Jesuit universities have the crime query on their application, including Fordham.
Colleges may want to implement this query because of safety concerns and precautions. Fordham student John Liang, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’17 and legal assistant at a law firm said that this raises the question, “how important is it to ask uncomfortable questions for the sake of safety?”
According to a study published by the Center for Community Alternatives in 2010, there is no empirical evidence that shows students with a criminal record being more likely to commit crime on campus. Liang said, “Asking about misdemeanors as well as violations is nonsensical as most of these offenses are minor and factor in poorly when assessing potential safety risks of admitting a new student.”
Dr. John Davenport, professor of philosophy and director of peace and justice studies at Fordham University also addressed some of the concerns made by critics. The question is problematic because the query is “unfair not just because it might have a disproportionate impact on students from certain minority groups but just in general because the role of higher education is to create opportunities,” he said.
According to Davenport, colleges are supposed to be a meritocratic system, meaning that colleges should wholly be looking at an applicant’s potential in the admissions process.
“The leeway for colleges to do that [affirmative action] is shrinking all the time so they don’t really want to also be excluding people on the basis of misdemeanors or minor felonies,” he said. To ignore an affirmative answer to this question is difficult, he explained. The pressure of liability issues could cause colleges to “discriminate on the safe side if there’s any doubt at all.”
Patricia Peek, director of admissions at Fordham University, assured that they “engage in a holistic review process of our applicants” and “this question is only one element in the overall evaluation.”
Davenport suggested that if colleges want to err on the safer side and still be precautious without completely eliminating the query, they could narrow the question. Colleges may want to ask instead, “have you ever been convicted of rape or some other violent crime, armed robbery or assault” because “if a student says yes to those questions there might be, one could argue, more reason to be concerned” he said.
According to Peek, “we have received no complaints that I am aware of” in regards to the crime query. As to whether Fordham will be abolishing the question anytime soon, “we do not see any immediate change for Fordham,” but will keep “an eye toward emerging trends and conversations” in the admissions process.