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controversy

Critics say asking college applicants for their criminal records is racist

The New York Times reports that critics, "noting the racial imbalances in how some crimes are processed," have persuaded three New York colleges to drop the "Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a felony?" question from their applications.

State Attorney General Eric. T. Schneiderman reviewed 70 colleges and universities after the Center for Community Alternatives advocacy group raised concerns. Only St. John's Catholic University, Five Towns College, in Dix Hills, Long Island, and Dowling College, in Oakdale, Long Island, agreed to comply with the proposed changes.

Schneiderman said in a statement that "an arrest or police stop that did not result in a conviction, or a criminal record that was sealed or expunged, should not — indeed must not — be a standard question on a college application," because "such a question can serve only to discourage New Yorkers from seeking a higher education."

The Center for Community Alternatives in 2010 published a study that found that "students with criminal records were no more likely to pose a risk to campus safety, and that lowering barriers to education could be a powerful way to reduce recidivism."

"Susan Barr, the interim president of Five Towns, said the inquiry by the attorney general's office had come as a surprise," according to the Times, but that she did not object to the requested change, because, as Barr said, "Sometimes kids do things they regret. We want to give them a chance."

The colleges agreed to use criminal history to disqualify applicants if a conviction poses a threat to public safety or property, or if it interferes with an academic program or student responsibility. Read more at The New York Times.