‘Hooliganism’ in Russia vs. ‘Disruptive Conduct’ at U. of Delaware

By on August 24, 2012

The mainstream media has been more fired up than usual about freedom of speech in its furious coverage of Russia’s recent prosecution of three young members of the punk band Pussy Riot under a "hooliganism" statute. The band’s offense? Performing a political song inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Yet right here in the States, the University of Delaware maintains flagrant restrictions on its students’ free speech rights, and FIRE stands nearly alone in its outrage. In a recent piece for Forbes.com, titled "Hooliganism in Moscow, Bullying in Delaware: A Rose by Any Other Name," FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate and I call attention to the University of Delaware’s "disruptive conduct" code—FIRE’s August 2012 Speech Code of the Month—which prohibits, for example, "making, exhibiting, or producing any inappropriate, loud, or disruptive noise or behavior." We make the case that the ubiquitous university "bullying" and "harassment" codes resemble Russia’s "hooliganism" statute too closely for comfort. 

From the article:

By now, just about everyone—including the US State Department (and Madonna)—has scorned Russia for its actions.

But back here in the States, the University of Delaware has begun using an equally vague handle — denominated a "disruptive conduct" code — to abolish what is increasingly becoming the American analogy to Russia’s "hooliganism," namely "bullying" or "harassment." The University of Delaware is a state university and therefore bound, in theory, to honor its students’ state and federal constitutional rights guaranteeing free speech. Yet this unacceptably vague vessel for suppressing student speech that is disfavored by the school’s administration has attracted pitifully little notice from those venues that took on the Putin government.

It certainly behooves those who worry about free speech abroad—and justifiably so!—to worry about it here at home as well.