Has Big Brother Moved off Campus? an Examination of College Communities' Responses to Unruly Student Behavior

Article excerpt

Disruptive off campus behavior by college students in recent years has been unrelated to social causes or the public interest. The unruly behavior following athletic events or spring festivals has been damaging to the communities in which the students reside and has included rioting, property destruction, noise, littering, over extension of police resources, and interference with quality of life. While incidents of unruly student behavior have occurred in college communities, large and small, located throughout the nation, this article looks at efforts made by three Pennsylvania communities to curb the problems. These efforts include passing ordinances requiring reimbursement for police costs, seeking injunctive relief to control the size and conduct at large parties, and installing public video cameras at student housing. The article explores the constitutional and public policy problems posed by the measures enacted by the communities, and concludes that the measures are either unlikely to withstand judicial scrutiny, or may create more dangerous problems than they were designed to combat.


College student unrest is not new in the United States. The college years historically have been associated with rebellious behavior ranging in intensity from harmless pranks, to defiance of social mores and organized dissent from mainstream political ideology. As early as the mid-1800s, responding to the stern discipline of the religious/paternalistic college system and amid claims that their "natural rights" were being suppressed, students at many eastern colleges rioted causing extensive property damage to their campuses.1 One of these riots at the University of Virginia resulted in the death of a professor.2 In the 1960s and 70s the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War resulted in widespread intentional lawbreaking and violence both on and off campuses.3 Thousands of criminal cases were brought against students for protests borne out of their desire for social change.4

While student unrest is not a recent phenomenon, what seems to be new on college campuses is the amount of purposeless destruction in which students are engaged.5 This destruction often spills over the gates of the ivy covered towers into the communities in which the colleges reside. On March 31, 2001 a melee broke out in West Lafayette, Indiana following Purdue's loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA women's basketball championship. Students broke store windows, damaged cars and stoked fires with piles of furniture.6 That same weekend in College Park, Maryland, after the University of Maryland (U.M.) lost to Duke in the Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, students rioted, ransacked privately owned homes, set bonfires which destroyed cable lines and tore down street signs resulting in $500,000 of property damage.7 The U.M. students' destructive behavior can't be explained by disappointment at their loss. Their behavior didn't improve the following year when U.M. won in the Final Four. Following the victory, students broke windows, vandalized police cars, threw bottles at officers and set more bonfires.8

College students' destructive acts have not only followed sporting events. Each July, the Borough of State College, Pennsylvania hosts the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. The event, which has been held for 37 years, lasts for 5 days and attracts about 100,000 artisans and patrons of the arts.9 For reasons no clearer than "too much alcohol" and "a good natured celebration turned sour"10 during the festival in 1998 Penn State students destroyed parked cars, ripped down street lights and signs, broke windows of businesses, set bonfires, and threw kegs from balconies causing at least $50,000 in damages and numerous injuries to police and students alike." Halloween mischief has evolved into annual melees at many campuses including Ohio University, Kent State and Southern Illinois University (S. …


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