NYU Calls Out Common App on Criminal Convictions Checkbox

Lexi Faunce and Anne Cruz

In response to student demands to remove questions concerning disciplinary action and criminal history in NYU’s undergraduate application, NYU sent a letter to the Common App on Wednesday, advising the organization to evaluate the value of disciplinary and criminal history checkboxes in
their application.

NYU’s Vice President for Enrollment Management MJ Knoll-Finn previously addressed this topic in a March 2015 press release. The statement read that applications would now be initially read without knowledge of whether a student has checked the box indicating that they have been convicted of a crime.

“Once an initial admissions determination is made, a team of admissions officers — specially trained on fact-based assessment and issues of bias — will evaluate whether a past criminal offense would justify a denial of admission,” the release stated.

Since Knoll-Finn’s 2015 statement, the Silver School of Social Work changed their admissions policy to no longer require applicants to disclose whether they have been convicted of a crime. Yet NYU, as a member institution of the Common App, still must ask students to reveal this information — a point of concern for the university.

Knoll-Finn wrote the letter to Common App’s CEO and board chair on behalf of NYU. The letter questions the validity of these application checkboxes on the basis of racial inequity in the criminal justice system.

“Especially in the context of high rates of school discipline and incarceration among people of color, it seems vital to pose two questions about the checkboxes: do they, in fact, have any predictive value, and does their presence work against universities’ mission as engines of social mobility and diversity either by discouraging applicants or by resulting in unjustified denials of admissions on the grounds of safety or integrity?” the
letter reads.

In addition to this, the letter also proposed a possible meeting in February between NYU and the Common App to discuss selecting a principal investigator to research how including the box on applications affects admission rates. The letter stated that the university hopes to have some preliminary data before the next admissions cycle to accurately judge the checkbox’s legitimacy on applications.

Knoll-Finn said the university does not think there has been enough objective research done to identify positive or negative consequences of including
the checkboxes.

“We believe it fitting to strongly urge the Common App to take the lead rapidly in organizing a well-designed, objective study involving several universities on the impact of the two checkbox questions: whether they discourage applicants, whether they provide schools with information of predictive value and whether their effects align with member schools’ principles and
admissions objectives.”

NYU spokesman John Beckman said the decision by the School of Social Work demonstrates the growing concern across NYU and its schools about the checkbox and
its consequences.

“Against the backdrop of growing questions about the fairness of the criminal justice system, NYU thinks sound questions are being raised about the presence of the ‘checkbox’ on higher ed applications,” Beckman said. “Most importantly, does the checkbox have any value in terms of keeping a campus safer, and does its presence create an unfair hurdle to applicants who are trying to turn their lives around by getting
a degree?”

A complete version of the letter sent to the Common App can be found below.

NYU-Proposed-Letter-to-the-Common-App-1-v-Final (Text)


CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the Silver School of Social Work was the first NYU graduate school to not ask applicants about their criminal history. However, other schools, such as the Gallatin School of Individualized Study have never required applicants to disclose such information.

Email Lexi Faunce and Anne Cruz at [email protected].