Understanding the Likelihood of Occurrence and Dynamics of Campus Community Public Order Disturbances

  • McCarthy, John David (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details



PI: John McCarthy

Institution: Pennsylvania State University Park

Serious public order disturbances have become increasingly common during the last decade on and near U.S. College and University campuses, a rare wave of them that offers a unique opportunity for research. In spite of their increasing frequency and the alarm they have triggered in local communities, there has been no systematic enumeration of campus disturbances. Nor, as a result, has there been any serious attempt to account for the underlying conditions that make a community more or less likely to experience a disturbance or to investigate disturbance dynamics and outcomes. This project assembles systematic evidence on disorderly public gatherings that occurred in large campus communities during the period between 2001 and 2006 to fill this void. We will conduct a rigorous test of an explanation designed to account for variation in the likelihood that any community will experience a disorderly gathering as well as its dynamics and level of severity.

When all phases of this project are completed, it will test the notion that the likelihood a campus community will experience a public order disturbance is dependent upon 1) a set of underlying structural conditions related to the size, social density of community's population and its proximity to common assembly areas; 2) facilitating conditions that relate primarily to the level of antagonism in the ongoing relations between campus community residents and the local police and university administration; and 3) the density of alcohol outlets in proximity to common assembly locations. The severity of resulting disturbances is conceived as dependent upon these several characteristics along with a set of specific disturbance related factors, including disturbance size and the behavior of both police and civilian participants.

This project uses all communities that include one of the large campuses (with an enrollment of more than 10,000 students) as the target population of communities at risk and all we study all of the temporary gatherings that become noticeably disorderly on or near those campuses compose the population of events of interest. Campus disturbances that began with protests as well as those that began as sports gatherings, as sports celebrations and as social events will be included.

In the first phase of the project surveys of Campus Police and Student Affairs offices on each campus will allow the identification of disturbances which occurred in those communities within the study period: 2001-2006. Measures of precipitating conditions will be generated out of secondary data sources, particularly the annual campus 'Clery' reports on alcohol violations, county level annual crime and arrest reports as well as from the surveys of campus police and student affairs representatives concerning policies relevant to the relations between campus and community citizens and authorities. Finally, an extensive variety of electronic newspaper archives will be used to locate reports on most of the identified disturbances, and a data base capturing their details will be created.

The research has very great potential to have broader impacts, both theoretical and in terms of practical policy. First, the research will provide a unique test of the most robust empirical account of the urban disorders of the 1960s. And, second, the results of the research provide great promise to help policy makers who work to reduce the likelihood and reduce the severity of campus community disturbances formulate effective policy proposals.

Effective start/end date4/1/069/30/09


  • National Science Foundation: $126,089.00


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