News: CJ Exclusives

UNC Task Force Calls for Checks

Panel appointed by UNC president responds to murders, safety concerns

Criminal background checks performed on a case-by-case basis are among the recommendations by a University of North Carolina system task force on campus safety issues.

The 17-member Task Force on the Safety of the Campus Community made several recommendations in its report, which was released in mid-December. The task force also recommended, among other things, creating standardized questions on admissions applications to cover the subjects of integrity and behavior, having each school institute a Campus Safety Committee, and employee safety training.

UNC President Molly Corbett Broad created the task force in June after the murders of two UNC-Wilmington students, Jessica Faulkner, 18, and Christen Naujoks, 22. Faulkner and Naujoks were killed less than a month apart by students who had been admitted into UNCW after concealing previous criminal convictions from admissions officers. Like most schools, UNCW relied on the honor system on applications.

The task force found that 21 UNC students who committed a violent crime on campus had a criminal record. Thirteen of those failed to report their criminal records on their applications.

UNC’s crime rate is about one-sixth of the crime rate for the state overall, the report said. According to the report, from 2001-2004, the UNC campus crime rate was 70 crimes per 100,000 people. Most of the crimes committed were simple or aggravated assaults. The rate of violent crimes in North Carolina in 2003-04 was 450 crimes per 100,000 people.

“The overwhelming majority of UNC students will never be involved with nor affected by a violent crime while enrolled,” said Bobby Kanoy, UNC senior associate vice president for academic and student affairs who was chairman of the task force. “However, we are determined to make sure we are doing everything reasonably within our power to ensure the safety of all our students while maintaining the University’s history commitment to access and openness. That was the purpose of this task force.”

A subcommittee looking at admissions recommended the case-by-case basis for criminal background checks. UNC-Chapel Hill Director of Admissions Stephen Farmer led the subcommittee. Farmer was unavailable for comment.

The recommendations would create a tougher screening process for applicants to all UNC institution. Screening applications through various records would create steps to “verify the completeness and the accuracy of information provided by applicants,” the report says.

Under the recommendations, criminal background checks would be used only when certain criteria were met, such as if a student had an unexplained gap in time between high school graduation and his application for admission. The task force argued against mandatory criminal background checks for each applicant on the grounds of cost effectiveness, citing the low number of students who lied on their applications and subsequently committed a crime on campus.

“The Admissions Subcommittee concluded that given the extremely small number of students who failed to provide accurate and truthful information on their applications and went on to commit a campus crime, the widespread and routine use of criminal background checks on all students would be neither cost-effective nor significantly improve safety,” the report says.

Murders at UNCW

Amid public outcry over the UNCW murders, UNCW criminal justice professor Mike Adams issued a call in his column in favor of criminal background checks in the admissions process at UNCW.

Adams advocated criminal background checks on all applications, saying that the cost concern was moot.

“All we need to do is require the students pay for their own background checks and submit them with their applications,” Adams wrote. “But most students would gladly pay that small additional cost to get the extra security it will bring to them and their fellow students.”

Concerning the two murders that led to the task force, Adams said a criminal background check would have saved Faulkner’s life.
Faulkner was found strangled inside her dormitory room on the last day of the spring semester. Curtis Dixon, a 21-year-old classmate of Charlotte, was arrested and charged with her murder. Dixon allegedly had been stalking Faulkner before the slaying, trying to pursue a romantic relationship with her.

In June, Naujoks was found dead in front of her apartment building after being shot 11 times. A former boyfriend, John Peck, 28, of Wilmington, was sought in connection with her death. Naujoks had believed Peck was stalking her after she broke off their relationship. A manhunt that covered several states and included officers in Ohio ended in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. After a shoot-out with police, Peck shot himself and died before his SUV tumbled down a ravine.

In December, Dixon broke away from corrections officers and was mortally wounded after jumping from a stairwell at Polk Detention Center, where he was being held pending trial on murder, rape and other charges. He could have faced the death penalty if convicted.

Both Dixon and Peck had been admitted into UNCW after withholding information about their previous criminal convictions during their applications. Dixon had a previous conviction for misdemeanor larceny. Peck had pleaded guilty in November 2001 to assaulting a female and other charges. Peck’s girlfriend said he raped her at gunpoint.

Peck was later expelled from UNCW after the school learned about his lying on his application. UNCW currently asks applicants whether they have been convicted of anything more than a traffic violation. Peck told the Wilmington Star that he lied on his application because “otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten in.”

Blosser is a contributing writer at Carolina Journal.