At Valdosta State, New Leadership or More of the Same?

By August 21, 2008

As dedicated Torch readers will remember, Ronald Zaccari, Valdosta State University’s former President, retired early this summer after a disastrous last year in office during which he expelled former VSU student Hayden Barnes for engaging in protected political expression. Indeed, Zaccari left VSU with his legacy in tatters, having been named one of our nation’s “most egregious and ridiculous censors” by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression and remains the subject of a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by Barnes.

So it was with real hope that FIRE wrote to VSU Vice President for Academic Affairs Louis Levy and incoming VSU President Dr. Patrick J. Schloss at the beginning of this month. We wrote to ask Dr. Schloss to turn the page on one remaining part of Zaccari’s repressive legacy at VSUnamely, the school’s unconstitutional free speech zone, which limits student expression to less than 0.1% of VSU’s sprawling 168 acre campus. Keeping our fingers crossed for “a renewed focus on protecting student rights under incoming President Dr. Patrick J. Schloss,” we wrote:

We implore VSU’s new leadership to recognize that free speech is to be celebrated, honored, and broadenednot feared, suppressed, and restricted. Let your students exercise their basic legal, moral, and human rights; let them speak as their consciences dictate.

Understanding that taking a new job as president of a Red Alert school like Valdosta State is no small undertaking, we’ve given Schloss more than three weeks to respond. But so far, we still haven’t heard back from Dr. Schloss or Vice President Levy.

We’ll keep waiting, and I for one very much hope we do get a chance to convince Valdosta State’s new leadership that the First Amendment rights of its students must be protected. But so far, it’s looking like more of the same. We’ll keep you posted.

Schools: Valdosta State University Cases: Valdosta State University: Freedom of Expression on Campus Limited to Unconstitutional Free Speech Zone Valdosta State University: Student Expelled for Peacefully Protesting Parking Garages