University officials do not automatically refuse admission to students with criminal records.
Officials said they have admitted students who answer in affirmative on their university application to questions regarding being charged or convicted of a past misdemeanor or felony.
If a student answers “yes” to any of the questions, the vice president of student affairs or dean of students review the application file and investigate further, said Michelle Cook, director of admissions.
“Then that information is presented by the VP for student affairs/dean of students to the admissions committee, which is made up of faculty and staff,” Cook said. “There a decision regarding admission is made.”
The admissions committee consists of 10 voting members who meet to review and discuss admission of potential students who do not meet all of the university’s application requirements. The committee reviews all of the applicant’s paperwork, including transcripts, essays and letters of recommendation. Their options include regular admission, refusal of admission or admission on probation, where the student is admitted but must achieve a 2.00 GPA after a semester of at least 12 credit hours.
The potential student’s admissions counselor is asked to write a recommendation to the committee regarding which decision they should make, providing the reasons for that decision. This recommendation is not always taken, though, said Kristen Burkholder, access services librarian and admissions committee member.
“We aren’t presented with many felonies, but, when we are, we look at as much context as possible,” Burkholder said. “If someone has a felony on their record, they know they need to provide a thorough explanation. We look at when the felony happened, the circumstances around it and whether or not they are likely to do it again.”
The applicant’s potential housing situation may play into the decision, but the biggest concern is whether the student might be a danger to anyone in the OCU community, Burkholder said.
This case-by-case policy has been in place for as long as anyone can remember, Cook said.
The policy came to light recently when a student was arrested for possession of methamphetamine last semester on campus.
Juan Burrell, 43, was arrested Nov. 11 and charged Dec. 13 with one count of possession of a controlled dangerous substance. The arrest occurred after a campus police officer recognized Burrell as a man with three warrants out for his arrest. The warrants were from September 2014 charges of possession of a controlled dangerous substance and possession of methamphetamine, to which Burrell pleaded guilty.
Before his November arrest, Burrell was studying psychology with a pre-law and Oxford plan, as well as a minor in criminal justice. Fall 2016 was his first semester on campus.
“When it comes to drugs, the committee usually only deals with convicted felonies, since applicants aren’t required to report unproven charges,” Burkholder said. “If we don’t think they’d be a danger, we’ll probably try to give them a second chance.”
Officials will not disclose the number of students with criminal records on campus. They also said there’s no set policy for prospective students who have sex offenses, so they would go through the same process.
Quinn Weedon, English junior, said the issue is a tough one because crimes are all different.
“Though you can’t have a cold-blooded criminal wandering campus, you can’t refuse to admit every kid who gets in a bar fight or smokes weed,” Weedon said. “I believe in second chances, but there is a line somewhere. I think it has to be a case-by-case basis.”