Valdosta State University: Freedom of Expression on Campus Limited to Unconstitutional Free Speech Zone

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: Valdosta State University

Valdosta State University (VSU) President Patrick J. Schloss announced that VSU would rescind its unconstitutional policy that had restricted campus speech to a "free speech zone," a move that prompted FIRE to remove VSU from its Red Alert list. VSU’s previous policy restricted the free expression of all "persons wishing to speak on campus" to one small stage, the use of which was restricted to two non-consecutive hours per day-and only on weekdays. FIRE wrote former VSU President Ronald Zaccari to inform him that VSU "cannot lawfully quarantine free expression to just one area of the school’s 168-acre campus." FIRE then wrote two additional letters to VSU, produced a short film, and bought an advertisement in the 2009 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges issue, noting its placement on the Red Alert list. President Schloss announced in a letter to FIRE that VSU’s General Public Forum Venue policy had been changed to comply with the First Amendment.        

  • The campus culture wars in two videos

    April 21, 2009

    Two weeks ago, I was working as a staff member at a Buddhist retreat in New York City. On the way to lunch, I was discussing with our instructor for the weekend the passions and anger often ignited when fighting for free speech on campus. He was surprised to hear that sometimes my work is poorly received by my fellow New Yorkers. In his words, “everyone must just assume you’re a white hat,” meaning the good guy in a Western movie. (Not much a Western fan myself, I needed that one explained.) But I told him that was not always […]

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  • Barnes Verdict Expected Today

    February 1, 2013

    A verdict in Barnes v. Zaccari is expected today. The jury began deliberations yesterday afternoon. The Valdosta Daily Times (Ga.) has more from inside the courtroom proceedings, highlighting Bob Corn-Revere’s argument on behalf of former Valdosta State University student Hayden Barnes, who was expelled for peacefully protesting the planned construction of campus parking garages: [Former Valdosta State University President Ronald] Zaccari was looking for any route he could find to dismiss Barnes, according to Corn-Revere, although no one, including the university police chief, found any information about Barnes that would classify the junior transfer as a threat. “When Dr. Zaccari […]

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  • Eleventh Circuit Affirms Ruling against Former Valdosta State President in Victory for Student Rights

    February 8, 2012

    Here is today’s press release: ATLANTA, February 8, 2012—In a victory for student rights, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a unanimous decision late yesterday in the case of Barnes v. Zaccari, holding that former Valdosta State University (VSU) President Ronald M. Zaccari may be found personally liable for violating the due process rights of former VSU student T. Hayden Barnes. Barnes first came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help in October 2007. “This landmark ruling from the Eleventh Circuit leaves no doubt that university administrators who choose to ignore […]

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  • Changes in Leadership Give Red Alert Schools Golden Opportunity to Restore Free Speech

    May 19, 2010

    The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Richard F. Celeste will step down as President of Colorado College at the end of the next academic year. This latest announcement means that four of the six schools on FIRE’s Red Alert list will undergo changes in leadership in the next year. Bucknell University President Brian C. Mitchell announced last year his intention to retire from Bucknell’s presidency, exiting Bucknell on June 30; Lawrence S. Bacow has announced his intention to leave Tufts University in June 2011; and embattled Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz plans to exit his post by then as […]

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  • FIRE in Action: Valdosta State University

    January 19, 2009

    This short film highlights FIRE’s fight against Valdosta State University’s (VSU’s) unconstitutional free speech zone policy and chronicles FIRE’s victory on behalf of VSU student T. Hayden Barnes, who was expelled for engaging in a peaceful protest. Featuring on-the-scene interviews with Barnes; his attorney, noted First Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere; and FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, this video illustrates the impact of FIRE’s work and explains why VSU remains a priority in FIRE’s fight for student rights on campus.

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  • Greg in ‘Huffington Post’ on Valdosta State and the Importance of Free Speech on Campus

    September 26, 2008

    Check out FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s Huffington Post entry today in which he praises Valdosta State University for the long-awaited dismantling of their free speech zone. Greg points out both how important it is that Valdosta is heading in the right direction, and why free speech on campus is so crucial to our democracy as whole. As Greg notes in the article: One of the most worrisome questions I receive is, “Why is censorship on campus important?” Now I understand that in light of fighting two wars and staring down the looming collapse of our economy, campus censorship might strike […]

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  • VSU Student Newspaper Notes University’s Removal from Red Alert List

    September 18, 2008

    The Spectator, Valdosta State University’s (VSU’s) student newspaper, ran an article yesterday about FIRE’s victory at VSU after VSU’s new president, Patrick Schloss, replaced the university’s “Free Expression Area” policy with a “General Public Forum Venue” policy. The old policy was awarded the dubious distinction of FIRE’s March 2008 Speech Code of the Month for, on its face, relegating speech to a tiny stage on the entire VSU campus for only two hours on weekdays. VSU’s free speech zone came to FIRE’s attention after former VSU president Ronald Zaccari expelled student Hayden Barnes for posting a collage on Facebook.com criticizing […]

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  • Free Speech Policy

    September 18, 2008

    A watchdog group is happy now that a local university has changed its free speech policy. Eyewitness News reporter Kim Carapucci has more. Valdosta State University considers itself a pretty liberal school. VSU President Patrick Schloss: “We believe strongly in free speech and open access.”   But over the past year, it’s been accused of violating students’ rights to free speech. In March of 2007, a student was kicked of the school when he spoke out against a proposed parking garage on campus. The school’s former policy said if a person wanted to express their opinions on campus, they had […]

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  • Victory for Free Speech at Valdosta State University

    September 17, 2008

    PHILADELPHIA, September 17, 2008—In a welcome reversal, Valdosta State University (VSU) has revoked its unconstitutional free speech zone policy, restoring free expression to the vast majority of VSU’s campus. Newly installed VSU President Patrick J. Schloss announced the new policy in a letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The change comes in response to months of pressure from FIRE and removes VSU from FIRE’s Red Alert list, a distinction reserved for institutions demonstrating a severe and ongoing disregard for the fundamental rights of students or faculty members. “President Schloss has distinguished himself from his predecessor by […]

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  • Policy Changed: VSU reveals new free expression rule; FIRE backs off

    September 17, 2008

    VSU President Dr. Patrick Schloss signed a new General Public Forum Venue policy on Sept. 11, changing VSU’s free expression on campus. In a letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Schloss announced that a new General Public Forum Venue policy replaced the old Free Expression Area policy. The new policy dramatically increases the amount of time allowed for use of the school’s free speech expression area on campus for public debate. In response, FIRE has taken VSU off of their “Red Alert” list of schools who disregard free speech and expression. “President Schloss has distinguished himself […]

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  • Sierra Club Fails Valdosta State for Free Speech Zone

    September 3, 2008

    The Sierra Club has released its second annual list of “cool schools” that promote environmental initiatives on their campuses. As a counterpoint, the Sierra Club also includes a list of schools that conspicuously fail to encourage—or even inhibit—environmental initiatives. And, interestingly enough, who should we find on that latter list but one of FIRE’s Red Alert schools, the infamous Valdosta State University? As regular Torch readers will no doubt recall, Valdosta State first came to FIRE’s attention when former VSU President Ronald Zaccari expelled student Hayden Barnes for posting a collage on Facebook.com protesting Zaccari’s plans to build a parking […]

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  • FIRE Exposes Unrepentant Abusers of Liberty in ‘U.S. News’ College Rankings Issue

    August 25, 2008

    PHILADELPHIA, August 25, 2008—The 2009 edition of U.S. News and World Report‘s America’s Best Colleges issue, released today, includes a full-page advertisement from FIRE highlighting the five colleges and universities that have earned FIRE’s Red Alert distinction for being the “worst of the worst” when it comes to liberty on campus. Students should think twice before choosing to attend Red Alert schools, which include Brandeis University, Colorado College, Johns Hopkins University, Tufts University, and Valdosta State University. “Every year, millions of students and parents turn to U.S. News and World Report to see the latest college rankings,” said FIRE President […]

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

    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 […]

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  • For Olympic Free Speech Zones, China Takes Page From American Universities

    July 24, 2008

    As the start of the Beijing Games draws near―and with questions remaining about how Communist Party officials will address public dissent and protest―I was struck by this paragraph from an article in The New York Times this morning: The Chinese government will permit public protests inside three designated city parks during next month’s Olympic Games, but demonstrators must first obtain permits from the local police and also abide by Chinese laws that usually make it nearly impossible to legally picket over politically charged issues. Designating special protest zones? Requiring permits for expressive activity? Reviewing the content of that expressive activity […]

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  • Pressed Again on Free Speech Zone, Valdosta State Finally Responds

    July 3, 2008

    It’s taken nearly eight months, but FIRE has finally received a response from Valdosta State University (VSU) regarding its blatantly unconstitutional free speech zone. We first wrote (now former) VSU President Ronald M. Zaccari regarding his university’s “Free Expression Area” policy in November of last year. Our letter detailed the myriad problems with the school’s policy, which restricts the free expression of VSU’s 11,000 students to an impossibly small stage for just two hours per day, as well as requiring reservations up to 48 hours in advance. Specifically, we wrote: First, VSU’s requirement of advanced reservations for all “[p]ersons wishing […]

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  • University System of Georgia Conducting Student Survey on Free Speech Zones

    April 18, 2008

    The University System of Georgia is surveying students to find out what they think about various expression-related issues on the system’s campuses, including free speech zones. The University System of Georgia is currently home to one of the worst free speech zone policies on record—so bad, in fact, that FIRE named Valdosta State University‘s free speech zone our March 2008 Speech Code of the Month. That policy designates just one small stage as the sole “free expression area” for the university’s 11,000 students; limits use of the stage to just 2 hours a day; and requires 48 hours advanced notice […]

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  • FIRE Challenges Valdosta State University’s Free Speech Zone in New Video

    March 3, 2008

    VALDOSTA, Ga., March 3, 2008—In response to Valdosta State University’s (VSU’s) unconstitutional free speech zone policy, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a short film today explaining VSU’s continued disregard for its students’ rights and chronicling FIRE’s recent victory on behalf of a VSU student expelled for engaging in a peaceful protest. “VSU has more than 11,000 students, yet its policy limits free speech to just one percent of campus. To make matters worse, students may only use the free speech zone for two hours a day, and have to reserve it two full days in advance. […]

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  • Valdosta State: Silence on Free Speech Zone

    January 4, 2008

    Here at FIRE, we’ve been checking the mail twice a day, making sure our phone lines are open and sending out test faxes, but everything seems to be in working order. That means there’s absolutely no excuse for Valdosta State University’s (VSU’s) continuing silence regarding our concerns about the school’s blatantly unconstitutional free speech zone. In our November 30 letter to VSU President Ronald M. Zaccari, we outlined the extensive constitutional infirmities contained in VSU’s “Free Expression Area Guidelines,” which limit student expression to a tiny portion of VSU’s campus for just two hours a day. Specifically, FIRE wrote: VSU’s […]

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  • In Letter to Valdosta State, FIRE Demands End to Free Speech Zone

    December 3, 2007

    Hot on the heels of awarding Valdosta State University (VSU) the ignominious “honor” of a place on FIRE’s Red Alert list, FIRE wrote VSU President Ronald M. Zaccari last Friday to demand an end to the school’s unconstitutional free speech zone. While VSU joined Tufts University and Johns Hopkins University on the Red Alert list due to the school’s expulsion of student T. Hayden Barnes for engaging in protected speech, the school’s free speech zone provides still further justification for its ignominy, as I discussed on The Torch a few weeks ago. In our letter, FIRE reminds soon-to-retire President Zaccari […]

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  • Red Alert: Valdosta State University

    November 27, 2007

    Upon retiring next June, Valdosta State University (VSU) President Ronald M. Zaccari can now add another achievement to his shameful legacy as head of Valdosta State, namely VSU’s addition to FIRE’s Red Alert list, where the university joins Johns Hopkins University and Tufts University as the “worst of the worst” when it comes to violations of student rights on campus.  Zaccari can’t say he didn’t see it coming. When expelling student T. Hayden Barnes solely for protesting the proposed construction of two parking garages on campus at the cost of $30 million in student fees, Zaccari must have realized that […]

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  • Adding Insult to Injury: Valdosta State’s Shameful Free Speech Zone

    November 19, 2007

    As we noted last week, soon-to-be-retired Valdosta State University (VSU) President Ronald M. Zaccari will leave behind an appalling legacy with respect to liberty on campus. That’s mainly because Zaccari’s expulsion of student T. Hayden Barnes for peacefully protesting Zaccari’s plan to build $30 million parking garages on campus easily ranks as one of the most egregious constitutional violations FIRE has ever seen. But unfortunately for current VSU students, when it comes to protecting constitutional rights, Zaccari’s negligence isn’t confined solely to the Barnes expulsion. Under President Zaccari, VSU maintains a blatantly unconstitutional “free speech zone”—a perhaps unsurprising discovery, considering […]

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