Valdosta State University (VSU) has used its power to expel a dissenting student from campus without any due process simply for having engaged in constitutionally protected speech. As we detail in our press release today, T. Hayden Barnes was “administratively withdrawn” from VSU after vocally protesting the university’s plans to spend $30 million of mandatory student fee money to construct two new parking decks—decks that Barnes believes are environmentally irresponsible.
Perhaps the oddest aspect of this case is the bizarre and melodramatic behavior of VSU’s president, Ronald Zaccari. As part of his campaign against the parking decks, Barnes posted a collage on his Facebook.com page that included pictures of Zaccari, a parking deck, and various environmental hazards. The collage was also marked with a variety of captions, including one in which Barnes referred to the parking deck as the “Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage,” in reference to concerns Zaccari had apparently expressed in a meeting about his “legacy” as VSU’s president. Because of this and some totally unrelated content that Barnes had posted on his website—including a link to an article about Virginia Tech and an ad for a photography competition with the tagline “Shoot it. Upload it. Get famous. Project Spotlight is looking for the next big thing. Are you it?”—Zaccari inexplicably decided that Barnes was out for his life. As we wrote in the press release:
According to VSU, on the basis of this perceived “threat,” Zaccari went so far as to spend taxpayer money to be “accompanied to high-profile events by plain-clothed police officers,” in addition to placing uniformed police officers on “high alert.” Despite his alleged perception of Barnes as a “clear and present danger,” at no time did Zaccari see fit to notify the campus of the danger supposedly presented by Barnes.
T. Hayden Barnes cannot legally be expelled by VSU and deprived of his Fifth Amendment right to due process for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment. FIRE requests that your administration immediately drop its opposition to Barnes’ appeal, reverse the administrative withdrawal order against him, and ensure that any record of this matter be expunged from his administrative record.
We hope that the Board of Regents will have the good sense to see that justice is done in this case.