Delaware student sues school over suspension for Web postings

DELAWARE — A student sued the University of Delaware Wednesday, claiming the school violated his First Amendment rights by suspending him for material on his Web site that some students, the school claims, considered offensive.

The student, Maciej Murakowski, 19, published satirical essays and fake movie reviews on his blog, hosted on the university’s server.

Several of the entries were explicitly sexual or violent, but intended for comedic or shock effect, according to the complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.

“This page is completely serious. It is not satire, it is not humor, and it is definitely not meant as a joke,” Murakowski said on his site, “Everything I write is serious. Seriously.”

A Jan. 12 post titled “Talking About Sex” described various sexual acts, including “The Emo: Shake and cry whenever your partner touches you,” and “The Sociopath,” which entailed romantically seducing a partner and then lighting her on fire.

In April, Vice President of Campus Life Cynthia Cummings called Murakowski’s father, a research engineer at the University of Delaware, to voice concern about the entry. She asked that Murakowski leave campus that night and meet her the next day.

At the meeting, Cummings gave Murakowski a letter, which said students had complained that the Web site was “sexually graphic, hostile and violent” and included “racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and homophobic statements.”

The letter said Murakowski would be charged through the university’s judicial system and barred from living in his dormitory or attending classes until a psychiatric assessment showed that he posed no threat to himself or others.

Murakowski’s psychological evaluation on April 23 concluded that he was not a threat, but he was still denied entrance to his dorm.

University officials declined to comment.

At a disciplinary hearing, Murakowski was suspended and banned from all university facilities until this fall. He would then have to reapply through the admissions office and, if readmitted, still be banned from all residence halls. An appeal was denied.

But Murakowski’s attorney, David Finger, said Murakowski could not be punished for the content he posted on the school’s server, which he says operates as a public forum.

“The university’s written policy regarding the use of its server was a hands-off policy,” Finger said in a phone interview.

The lawsuit also contends that the Web site never substantially disrupted university operations.

Murakowski recounted the events leading up to his suspension on his blog, commenting on the proceedings with his characteristic cynicism.

“Heads up, students: all of those rights you think you have (e.g. free speech, a fair trial, the implicit assumption of innocence, etc.) only exist insofar as you conform exactly to the administration’s definition of acceptable behavior,” he wrote. “Note: this definition is arbitrary, secret, and subject to change without notice.”

On his Web site, which Murakowski has since moved to an independent server, he asked his readers to help him by e-mailing Cummings.

“If you love my writing, please support me in this,” he wrote. “If you have ever laughed at anything I wrote, please support me in this. If you hate me and everything I stand for, but love freedom, please support me in this.”

“If you hate both me and freedom,” he continued, “you may be more comfortable here.” The last word linked to the Web site of the American Nazi Party.

Finger said Murakowski was not granting interviews at this time.

For More Information:

Murakowski v. Univ. of Delaware, No. 07-00475 (D. Del. filed Aug. 1, 2007).