U of I adopts policies to guard against abuse
Safeguards include training programs, background checks
URBANA, Ill. — The University of Illinois is expanding safeguards to protect young people who visit its campuses – as well as all current students, employees and other visitors – following a broad, 10-month review of U of I policies that was launched in the wake of the sex-abuse cases at Penn State University.
Under the policies, outlined at the Board of Trustees Governance, Personnel and Ethics Committee meeting on Thursday, every University employee and student will be required to complete sexual harassment training, and all employees will undergo required training on their responsibilities under a new state mandate that all campus workers report cases of suspected child abuse and neglect.
In addition, the policies expand requirements for criminal background checks to include any employee who has regular contact with minors, and require campuses to maintain a record of all events they host that involve minors, such as music or sports camps.
Maureen Parks, associate vice president for human resources, said the policies will heighten awareness and create a network of more than 100,000 faculty, staff and students who will help ensure the safety of young people and others on the University’s three campuses and associated facilities.
“The University has always had good safeguards, but these new policies take our efforts further – implementing the best practices that have emerged since the tragedies at Penn State,” Parks said. “They clearly outline acceptable standards for behavior, the consequences of bad behavior, and the legal and moral responsibility that our employees share in campus safety.”
The policies, which were developed by a University-wide task force created in the wake of the Penn State sexual abuse case and are already being implemented, include:
Mandatory reporting – Under a recent amendment to the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act, all University employees will soon be required to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect to the Illinois Department of Children and campus police, rather than only a select group of employees such as police officers, daycare and hospital workers. All employees will be required to complete an awareness program on their responsibilities under the new law, and then will receive an annual reminder of their obligation to report suspected abuse and neglect.
Sexual harassment training – All employees and incoming students will be required to complete an educational program on preventing sexual harassment, misconduct and harassment, and employees will be required to repeat it at least every three years. Sexual harassment training had been required for all incoming students and employees in some campus departments, but there was no University-wide mandate.
Background checks – All employees and prospective employees who have regular contact with minors will be required to undergo a criminal background and sex offender registry check. Previously, background checks were only required for security sensitive positions.
Tracking of minors – Each campus will be required to maintain a record of all scheduled activities involving minors, such as youth camps and performances, with details including location, number and age range of participants, and contact information for authorities who will make arrangements for the safety of minors in the event of emergencies. Before the new policy, those events were monitored by departments and units, but not campus-wide.
The review of University policies was authorized by the Office of the President, with concurrence of the Board of Trustees, in the wake of the Penn State episode. The new policies are already being implemented and will be outlined for the Board at its Nov. 8 meeting in Springfield, but formal action by trustees is not required.
Freedom of Information Act
The committee also heard a report that the University expects to process a record 700 formal information requests in 2012 under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), a sunshine law that provides public access to University records and documents.
From Jan. 1 through Sept. 30, the University’s Office for University Relations received 520 FOIA requests, an average of nearly 60 per month that is on pace to top the roughly 600 requests received in 2010 and 2011. About 28 percent of FOIA requests this year have been filed by the media, with 27 percent from commercial businesses and 45 percent from other universities, law firms, labor unions and individuals.
Based on the requests processed in the first nine months of 2012, the University has reviewed 103,311 pages of documents, and has produced 89,276 pages to comply with the FOIA requests. This is in addition to information routinely provided by units across the University and available on websites.
“The numbers show that the University of Illinois is committed to openness and transparency, providing information about our tax-supported operations that the public deserves and has a right to know,” said Thomas Hardy, executive director of the Office for University Relations.
The University of Illinois is a world leader in research and discovery, the largest educational institution in the state with more than 77,000 students, 24,000 faculty and staff, and campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. The U of I awards more than 20,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees annually.