Town hall focuses on university’s new felony disclosure policy


University of Michigan faculty, students and community members gathered Wednesday to discuss a new university policy requiring employees to disclose felony charges or convictions.

The town hall was organized by the Carceral State Project, an interdisciplinary collaboration that brings together U-M researchers, writers and artists with communities and advocacy organizations to address issues of mass incarceration, policing and immigration detention.

Under the new university policy — SPG 601.38, Required Disclosure of Felony Charges and/or Felony Convictions — faculty, staff, student employees, volunteers and visiting scholars are required to inform the university within one week of a felony charge or conviction that occurred on or after Feb. 1, 2019.

Felonies are more serious crimes and are often punishable by jail time, probation and fines. They include offenses such as murder, child abuse, aggravated use of a weapon, criminal sexual conduct, identity theft and home invasion.

The policy applies to faculty and staff on the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses and in Michigan Medicine, but does not currently apply to those covered by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. It also does not apply to charges or convictions that occurred before Feb. 1.

The Carceral State Project has created an open letter asking the university to rescind the new policy.

Photo of Ashley Lucas moderating Wednesday's town hall
Ashley Lucas, associate professor of theatre and drama and a member of the Carceral State Project steering committee, moderated Wednesday’s town hall discussion. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

At the town hall, attendees and organizers addressed the new policy, as well as the university’s existing practices of conducting background checks, and including criminal history questions on employment and admission applications.

Topics included a perceived lack of transparency in creating the policy, barriers formerly incarcerated people face in pursuing an education and the need for students to communicate with administrators if university policies do not make them feel safer on campus.

Ashley Lucas, associate professor of theatre and drama, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and member of the Carceral State Project’s steering committee, said universities and employers should not punish people with criminal records who have done their time.

Instead, they should be “given opportunities to flourish to the greatest extent possible,” said Lucas, also an associate professor of English language and literature and in the Residential College, LSA, and of art and design, Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design.

Natalie Holbrook, a program director for the American Friends Service Committee, said her organization has partnered for years with the university to educate students through service learning projects. She said university policies and practices that can potentially penalize those with criminal histories conflict with the university’s research mission.

“This school takes advantage of populations and community organizations on a regular basis for research,” Holbrook said. “I think that it’s a problem. I think you cannot do both. You cannot have a policy like this, and you can’t continue to have these really restrictive admissions policies, and then rely on community organizations that work with people who are in prisons and who have felony convictions.”

Photo Matthew Lassiter speaking at Wednesday's town hall
Matthew Lassiter, professor of history and associate professor of urban and regional planning, and a member of the Carceral State Project steering committee speaks at Wednesday’s town hall. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

Matthew Lassiter, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Carceral State Project steering committee member, said that years ago, when he was involved in conversations to incorporate criminal background checks at the university, administrators believed they could create a nondiscriminatory process.

“They believe they can create a process that doesn’t reproduce the bias outside the university. That is impossible,” said Lassiter, also a professor of history, LSA, and associate professor of urban and regional planning, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

“Everything we teach in all kinds of history shows that you cannot create a nonbiased process and impose it on a biased society.”



  1. Matthew Lassiter
    on February 14, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    I appreciate the Record’s coverage of this event, but the paragraph about felonies is really skewed to over-emphasize the most dangerous types of crimes. The majority of felony charges are for nonviolent crimes and many are drug violations or property crimes. These are the most common felony convictions in the United States:
    (1) Drug abuse violations 1,841,182
    (2) Driving while Intoxicated 1,427,494 (aka Felony DUI)
    (3) Property crime 1,610,088 (includes burglary, larceny, theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.)
    (4) Larceny-theft 1,172,762
    (5) Assault 1,305,693
    (6) Disorderly conduct 709,105
    (7) Liquor laws 633,654
    (8) Violent crime 597,447 (including murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault.
    (9) Drunkenness 589,402
    (10) Aggravated assault 433,945
    (11) Burglary 303,853
    (12) Vandalism 291,575
    (13) Fraud 252,873
    (14) Weapons violations (carrying or possession) 188,891
    (15) Curfew and loitering 143,002
    (16) Robbery 126,715
    (17) Offenses against family and children 122,812
    (18) Stolen property (buying, receiving, possession) 122,061
    (19) Motor vehicle theft 118,231
    (20) Forgery and counterfeiting 103,448

    • Rebecca Henke
      on February 15, 2019 at 7:18 am

      Thank you for posting this information Professor Lassiter. I have family members and friends who have felonies as a result of non-violent, drug charges who would now have to open the door to have an institution uphold the same bias society does. I was hoping to see more coverage about the university’s intentions to use the disclosure of felony charges. If the university does not intend on using it to discriminate, for what do they intend to use it? Individuals who see this question on applications, I speculate this is the goal, will feel reassured with an inflated sense of security in attending the university, but it will continue to reinforce the stigma we have been fighting to break down in society for the formerly incarcerated.

    • Trevor Bak
      on February 15, 2019 at 1:06 pm

      Thank you – I find it extremely problematic how the University’s explanation of felonies makes it sound like this will be a policy that protects the University from murders and child abusers; instead of a policy that covers a wide variety of crimes. Very troubling skew, and makes me doubt the university will uphold this policy without the bias that infects our criminal justice system.

  2. Christina Brown
    on February 15, 2019 at 8:28 am

    As a union member (LEO), I am apparently exempt from this decree. So the effect of it is also divisive; it creates a class of university citizens (everybody else) subject to invasive treatment because of status.

  3. Rick Carter
    on February 15, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    I can certainly see the reporting requirements for (some types of) felony convictions.

    But the University doing something based on a charge without said charge having been adjudicated … in general, I can’t see that being a good idea. If the University takes some action based on a charge that is dropped, or the employee-defendant is found not guilty, will there be recourse for the employee?

    • Rick Carter
      on February 15, 2019 at 2:22 pm

      To be clear, I’m talking about current charges/convictions, not past ones where the person has served their time. I don’t think those should be held against current or prospective employees.

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