Over the weekend, the editorial staff of The Augusta Chronicle penned an excellent piece on the jury verdict delivered last month against former Valdosta State University (VSU) President Ronald Zaccari. In that verdict, a federal jury in Georgia found Zaccari personally liable in the amount of $50,000 for violating the due process rights of former VSU student Hayden Barnes—one of the many fascinating developments in this case that dates back to 2007.
Zaccari’s complete disregard for Barnes’ due process rights as a student at a public university prompted the Chronicle‘s editorial staff to write:
Without so much as a double-secret probation, Zaccari unilaterally had Barnes "administratively withdrawn." No notice, no hearing, no due process whatsoever. And no law or ethics to back him up.
It was as if this public university were Zaccari’s kingdom, and he the sovereign.
The important thing, though, is that justice has been done in this case, as far as Zaccari’s personal involvement and culpability are concerned. As the Chronicle editorial notes, the federal jury’s imposition of personal liability is not only a victory for Hayden Barnes, it is an important development for student rights more broadly:
The case also should serve as a splash of cold water in the face of any college administrator who thinks he can rule with an iron fist and violate constitutional and civil rights. We would simply ask them: What’s in your wallet?
At bottom, this is a defeat of tyranny. Zaccari ludicrously argued that Barnes’ activism presented a "clear and present danger" to him and Valdosta State. The only clear and present danger was to our freedoms, and Zaccari was the one who posed it.
We have written previously at FIRE about the importance of piercing "qualified immunity" and holding university administrators personally liable for violating students’ and professors’ fundamental rights, and we are glad to see that outlets such as The Augusta Chronicle are picking up on this issue as well. For more on why the jury verdict against Zaccari is so crucial, be sure to also check out FIRE President Greg Lukianoff’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal from last month!