Of the thousands of college applications that the University of Rhode Island’s Office of Admissions receives annually, a very small portion come from students with a history of disciplinary violations, according to Cynthia Bonn, dean of admission.
URI applicants use the Common Application, which requires students to disclose whether they have ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any educational institution, or have been convicted of a misdemeanor, felony or other crime. If they answer “yes” to either type of infraction, they must submit an additional document explaining the circumstances of the incident.
“The majority of disciplinary records we see involve marijuana and drinking,” Bonn said. “We’re not receiving applications from hardened criminals.”
Admission staff is trained to refer applicants with criminal records to Bonn, who looks them over in detail before discussing them with Thomas Dougan, vice president of student affairs. Together, the two decide whether or not to admit the student in question.
“Our overarching question is whether the student will present a risk or danger to him/herself or other students,” Bonn said.
Bonn said she has not reviewed an application from a registered sex offender, which she explained could be possible because a student could lie about their disciplinary history in their application. If the university discovered information that an applicant failed to disclose, this could result in revocation of admission.
She presented one example of an application that differs from the more usual applicant with a minor drug or alcohol-related infraction. Bonn remembers the case of a student who accidentally got involved with the wrong type of people online and found himself in a bad situation that resulted in criminal charges. She and Dougan conferred on the application before making the decision to admit him.
While Bonn explained that the majority of disciplinary violations by applicants are the type that result in a two or three-day suspension from high school, a recent URI police report revealed that there are students with more serious criminal records on campus.
On March 4, a student reported to URI Police that she felt threatened by a male student, who is a registered sex offender. He is one of two registered sex offenders in attendance at URI, both of whom are designated as level two, or “moderate risk” offenders, according to the State of Rhode Island Parole Board and Sex Offender Community Notification Unit.
In accordance with the Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act of 2000, educational institutions must provide the community with information about where they can find further knowledge regarding registered sex crime offenders. This can be found on URI’s website.
“There are registered sex offenders everywhere,” said URI student Patricia Shen, in response to the police report. “I don’t think they’re making the campus any less safe than it already is.”
Student Erin Sheehan agrees, and believes that education should be available to everyone, regardless of one’s criminal record.
“Of course [registered sex offenders] deserve an education. It would be difficult for them to contribute to society without one,” she said.
In Bonn’s opinion, most people deserve a second chance.
“If they get an education it may help them stay out of trouble in the future,” she said.