This article originally appeared (under a different title) on the web site of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.
WILMINGTON – In the span of a month, two killings have shocked the college community at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, leading to questions regarding the UNC system’s admission policies as well as campus security.
Both murders involved stalking suspects killing the UNCW students they had been suspected of stalking. Curtis Dixon, 21, was arrested and charged with the murder of 18-year-old Cary native Jessica Faulkner. Dixon also faces rape and other charges. John Peck, 28, was accused in the shooting death of Christen Naujoks, 22. He died during a shootout with police officers in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Apart from this chilling coincidence, Dixon and Peck shared something else in common. They were both accused of lying on their college application in order to get into college. Both covered up their criminal histories in order to gain admission into UNCW.
According to The Associated Press, Dixon did not disclose a misdemeanor larceny conviction on his application. Peck omitted that he pled guilty in November 2001 to assaulting a female and other charges. Peck’s girlfriend claimed he raped her at gunpoint.
Peck remained enrolled at UNC-Wilmington until the school was made aware of the apparent lack of disclosure of his criminal history. Peck was eventually expelled from UNC-Wilmington.
When the Wilmington Star approached Peck about the lie, he admitted to it.
“I said ‘Yeah, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten in'” he told the paper.
Such is the case with most of the campuses within the UNC system, UNC-Wilmington, in its application, asks its applicants if they have been convicted of anything more than a traffic violation. There is no requirement for an applicant to submit a criminal background check.
“This is standard practice in universities all across the country,” UNC-Wilmington spokeswoman Mimi Cunningham told the Star. “We rely on the honor of our students.”
UNCW Prof. Mike Adams, who teaches criminal justice and writes for TownHall.com, believes a university should be able to obtain criminal background checks on its applicants. Adams took the stance in a recent column following Naujoks’ death.
“UNC-Wilmington needs to perform criminal background checks on all of its students instead of taking them at their honor in the application process,” Adams wrote in his June 9 column. “And, of course, they need to do the background checks before the students arrive on campus. While it was appropriate to expel John Peck for lying about his criminal past, it should have been done before he was actually admitted to the university, not after he was admitted and began stalking a fellow student.”
There are some problems in obtaining a criminal background check, UNC-Wilmington Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo said at a recent press conference. “The issue is complex,” DePaolo said. “We have students from around the nation and all over the world. To do thorough and complete background checks would require searching beyond the reach of (North Carolina) court records.”
According to UNC spokeswoman Joni Worthington, UNC President Molly Broad is forming a task force to look at safety on campus. The task force, which will include representatives from all 16 affiliated institutions, will be chaired by Dr. Bobby Kanoy of the UNC General Administration and will investigate the feasibility of requiring a criminal background check on campus.
“We are always reviewing issues regarding safety across the system,” Worthington said.
Adams believes a criminal background check should not be hard to obtain.
“The twin issues of financial and time constraints are simply moot,” Adams wrote. “All we need to do is require the students pay for their own background checks and submit them with their applications. … But most students would gladly pay that small additional cost to get the extra security it will bring to them and their fellow students.”
DePaolo said she is worried any institution would be able to obtain a complete report. She said most of UNCW’s incoming students “have just reached the age of no longer being legally considered a juvenile, and as you know, the records of juveniles are sealed and therefore unavailable to us.”
A criminal background check probably would have saved Faulkner’s life, Adams argued. But he said it was hard to tell whether it would have saved Naujoks, since Peck lived near Wilmington.
Shannon Blosser (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a staff writer with the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Chapel Hill.