For the first time, the University of Washington will ask applicants if they have ever been charged with certain felony offenses. Those who answer yes can be denied admission, says UW provost Ana Mari Cauce.

But Sean Johnson, a sophomore from the group Huskies for Fairness, says the policy "can only serve to widen the gap in educational racial disparities." More than 3,700 people have already signed a petition in protest of the new application change. Johnson adds that the application questions diverge from the rest of Seattle, which recently barred businesses from asking about criminal history in the first stage of the hiring process.

For her part, Cauce says the UW's move was prompted by a 2012 Seattle Times article about two sex offenders enrolled in classes, which led to complaints. But the two men "did well" and graduated without any incident, she says.

The new application will ask whether a prospective student has been convicted of or has charges pending in any violent felonies or is a registered sex offender, and if so, requests an explanation of why the student wouldn't threaten campus safety. Applicants may appeal if they are rejected. Asked to respond to critics who say the questions force people to defend themselves without legal representation, Cauce says, "I'm not telling you there are no problems with it. If the negatives outweigh the positives, we'll revisit." recommended