Courtroom Triumph for Free Speech on Campus

February 4, 2013

Friends of free expression have reason to celebrate today! That reason is a court decision,Barnes v. Zaccari, holding former Valdosta State University president Ronald M. Zaccari personally liable for violating a student’s right to due process. ACTA supporters can celebrate in a special way, for we were party to an amicus brief filed in the case.

In 2007, T. Hayden Barnes, then a student at Valdosta State, began a peaceful protest campaign against proposed new parking garages at Valdosta. He put up flyers around campus, wrote emails to members of students, faculty, and administrators, put up a photo collage on his facebook page, and wrote a letter to the editor of the student paper.

Then-president Zaccari wildly overreacted to Barnes’s actions, declared him a “clear and present danger” to VSU, and had him “administratively withdrawn”—in other words, summarily expelled from the school. Barnes was given no hearing nor any other chance to defend himself.

Barnes approached the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who connected him with a legal team and supported him through the legal process. FIRE also reached out to allies like ACTA, who joined the Cato Institute, the ACLU, and other groups in an amicus curiae brief on Barnes’s behalf. We are simply delighted to have helped see justice done. 

Zaccari will have to pay $50,000 plus legal fees to Barnes for violating the latter’s due process rights. Just as importantly, the case establishes a precedent: college administrators who violate students’ rights can be held personally liable. No more can they shunt responsibility onto their institutions: presidents themselves will be held responsible to their students. Special thanks to FIRE and everyone else who contributed to this happy outcome.

Schools: Valdosta State University Cases: Valdosta State University: Student Expelled for Peacefully Protesting Parking Garages