SUNY’s “Ban the Box” Initiated

The “Ban the Box” policy, created by the State University of New York (SUNY), which states that felony convictions will no longer be considered in admission decisions has gone into effect for the start of the 2018 admissions cycle. However, students who are admitted to a SUNY school still must disclose whether they have a felony conviction or not under the SUNY policy. 

This SUNY-wide “Ban the Box” measure was passed in September 2016 after SUNY board members voted in favor of the measure by an 8-2 margain. The official title of the policy is the “Admission of Persons with Prior Felony Convictions,” the pre-admission inquiry part of the policy states that “Neither the University-wide nor individual SUNY campus applications shall inquire about prior criminal history.”

SUNY schools can still use third-party admission applications, but the schools are prohibited from using any information regarding prior felony convictions provided on these applications on a pre-admission basis according to the policy. 

Traction for SUNY to pass a “Ban the Box” policy picked after a March 2015 study conducted by the Center For Community Alternatives. L. David Eaton, who is the college’s Vice President of Enrollment Management agreed with this notion.

“The study definitely got people interested in ‘‘Ban the Box,” Eaton said. “The study showed that applicants with a prior felony conviction were not finishing their applications.”

The study estimated that each year 2,924 applicants to SUNY check the box disclosing a felony conviction, 1,828 of those applicants did not complete the application. 

Despite the policy going into effect, students who have a past felony conviction still face some obstacles once they are accepted to a SUNY school. The SUNY New Paltz website states that the college has a right to know about an applicant’s criminal history after acceptance if the applicant wants to participate in clinical or field experiences, internships, study abroad programs and if they look to live on-campus. 

“The box has not been banned, it has just been moved down,” Eaton said. “We state this on the website so that a student with a criminal history doesn’t have to jump through hoops when they are looking to expand their educational experience such as getting an internship or studying abroad. It gives us time to counsel them on how to go forward with their education.”

When a new students logs into their mynewpaltz account, a notice to persons who have prior felony convictions comes up on the screen. Part of the notice states that “As of Jan. 1, 2018, SUNY no longer considers a person’s criminal history in the admissions process. However, once admitted and enrolled, persons with prior felony convictions are required to have their criminal record reviewed in order to have access to certain educational services and experiences.”

Eaton gave a historical background of why SUNY would ask applicants about their criminal history. It stemmed from an incident at the University of Buffalo when Larry Campbell applied for admission into the college in 1975 while he was still in prison for criminal possession of dangerous drugs.

According to The New York Times, Campbell was eventually admitted to the University of Buffalo and murdered two students in Rhona Eiseman and Thomas Tunney in 1976. In 1987, New York state was found not be held liable for paroling, and admitting Campbell to a SUNY school. Eaton said that the public outcry from this situation led to SUNY asking applicants about their criminal history.

“People became interested in this individual circumstance, this is what led to colleges asking applicants if they were ever convicted of a felony,” Eaton said. 

Despite the box still not being fully banned, Eaton still thinks the current policy in place will work.

“Although the process is a little complicated post-matriculation, I believe that we have a good system in place that most people on campus are in favor of.”