A former president of Valdosta State University should be held personally liable for the wrongful expulsion of a student, a federal jury said Friday. The jury found that Ronald M. Zaccari violated the student’s due process rights and must cover the $50,000 due to Hayden Barnes, who was expelled after Zaccari claimed he had been indirectly threatened by a collage Barnes posted on Facebook to protest the construction of two parking garages. In forcing Barnes to withdraw, Zaccari ignored the advice of his staff and circumvented normal procedure that should have awarded Barnes with notice and a hearing before being removed. Zaccari also went to questionable lengths to find information that could be used against Barnes, such as medical records. Although the jury found Zaccari personally liable, the university could choose to pay the fine for him.
It’s highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented for a president to be found personally liable in such a situation, said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which helped Barnes litigate his case. Lukianoff, who wrote about the case in his recent book Unlearning Liberty, said this was one of the worst violations of due process he’s seen.