Criminal Background Checks for Dummies

Posted: Jun 09, 2004 12:00 AM

Recently, I reported on a murder that occurred during final exam week on the campus of UNC-Wilmington. The victim, Jessica Faulkner, was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in her dormitory on May 5th. Another student, Curtis Dixon, has been indicted for that kidnapping, rape, and murder and is now awaiting trial.

Perhaps, the most tragic aspect of the case was apparent evidence that the murder could have been prevented by the authorities. During his call to the 911 dispatcher, the victim?s father, John Faulkner, indicated that Jessica was being stalked by Dixon prior to his alleged murder of the eighteen year-old student.

Since then, the assertion that the authorities knew about this alleged stalking has been called into question. Nonetheless, new evidence has emerged, which adds credence to the argument that the murder could have been prevented. Specifically, it has now been discovered that Dixon lied about his criminal record to get into school at UNC-Wilmington.

In addition to being home schooled after dropping out of school, it has now been revealed that Dixon has a conviction for larceny. Apparently, Dixon masked that conviction and also fabricated a false military record in order to get into UNC-Wilmington. Even more disturbing is the fact that Dixon?s father is an administrator (assistant to the chancellor) at UNC-Charlotte. It is difficult for some to imagine that Dixon?s father could not have suspected that his son lied about his past when he was admitted to UNC-Wilmington, assuming he was aware of his son?s criminal record. Sadly, Dixon is accused of killing a student at a university that never should have admitted him.

But the story gets even worse. Less than one month later, another female student at UNCW, Christen Naujoks, has been murdered in cold blood. This time the murderer, John Peck, was a former student who was recently expelled from UNCW. What was the reason for his expulsion? He lied about his criminal record on his application to UNCW.  After being charged with first degree rape and first degree sexual offense, he pleaded guilty to a count of assault against a female and two counts of crimes against nature in 2001.

Shortly after the murder of Faulkner, UNC-Wilmington found out about Peck?s criminal past and expelled him. Then, on June 4th, he shot and killed Christen Naujoks. Just a few days later, he died in a high-speed chase as he was fleeing from the authorities.

While this nightmare on our campus seems so very strange, the solution is actually rather simple. UNC-Wilmington needs to perform criminal background checks on all of its students instead of taking them at their honor in the application process. And, of course, they need to do the background checks before the students arrive on campus. While is was certainly appropriate to expel John Peck for lying about his criminal past, it should have been done before he was actually admitted to the university, not after he was admitted and began stalking a fellow student.

While the need for these comprehensive and early background checks is obvious to the general public, it is now being rejected by the UNCW administration. Unbelievably, school officials are now saying that such background checks would be ?unreasonable.? UNCW spokeswoman and Vice Chancellor Mimi Cunningham recently explained that ?We rely on the honor of our students.? But that honor system has contributed to two murders in less than a month.

Nonetheless, the local paper reports that university officials have ?no plans to consider modifications to the school?s admissions policy regarding criminal backgrounds.? Maybe the university should extend their ?honor? system to cover SAT scores. Students could just tell us what they made without supplying documentation.

But why are these comprehensive background checks ?unreasonable?? Would they be too time-consuming? Or would they just be too expensive?

Recently, I spoke with a friend who works for an accounting firm in Wilmington. As one of her responsibilities, she does criminal background checks for a retailer with hundreds of stores in North and South Carolina. She reported to me that she is capable of doing thousands of background checks per month by herself!

Remember that UNCW only admits a few thousand students per year. Between the time they are admitted in the spring and arrive in the fall, all background checks could be completed and those who lied on their applications could be expelled. Certainly, if they lied on their application, they would likely cheat on tests and plagiarize papers, even if they wouldn?t stalk and kill their fellow students.

In light of the fact that UNCW just paid $40,000 for Senator George Mitchell to speak for one hour, it is simply obscene to say that we can?t afford to pay someone to do these background checks. Do we care more about politics than the lives of our students? If we can afford to pay a faculty member to pass out condoms on campus so that our women are having ?safe sex,? why not make sure that their partners weren?t charged with rape and convicted of ?crimes against nature.? This is not very complicated. It is simply a matter of priorities.

The twin issues of financial and time constraints are simply moot. All we really need to do is require the students to pay for their own background checks and submit them with their applications. In some states, that may cost $10. In others, it may cost $30. But most students would gladly pay that small additional cost to get the added security it will bring to them and to their fellow students. Parents and taxpayers alike would applaud our new initiative. Indeed, we could become a model for the nation.

Yesterday, Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo announced that she is forming a task force to study the recent murder problem at UNCW. That is the typical academic approach, where the problem is seen as the environment and the solution is a complicated one that only a team of intellectuals can unravel.

Clearly, the administration has no intention of doing the right thing by following my simple advice. Therefore, we must go over their heads. Specifically, the citizens of North Carolina must demand that the governor either a) push for statewide implementation of my simple system, or b) provide a good reason for declining to do so.

I also hope that others around the country will e-mail or call (919.834.9000) Governor Easley demanding leadership on this issue. It is a simple matter of life and death.
Mike Adams ( is an associate professor at UNC-Wilmington. He is the author of ?Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel.?