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Red Alert: Valdosta State University
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 his actions were in violation of the First Amendment. After all, it’s reasonable to expect the president of a public university to understand the basic principles of free speech, and to realize that he cannot expel students just because he finds their speech annoying, inconvenient, or disagreeable. But apparently Zaccari somehow thought the Constitution didn’t cover VSU. Or maybe he just believed he could get away with silencing a student for speaking his mind. Either way, Zaccari’s expulsion of Hayden Barnes easily ranks among the worst abuses of student rights FIRE has ever seen—and that’s precisely why Zaccari has earned his school a spot on FIRE’s Red Alert list. Parents and prospective students should judge VSU by the company the school now keeps. In joining FIRE’s Red Alert list, VSU has become the equal of Johns Hopkins and Tufts as far as trampling student speech is concerned. As a quick review of Tufts’ and Hopkins’ track records on liberty proves, this is a significant—and dismal—accomplishment. It’s not every day that a school displays the type of contempt for freedom of speech that Hopkins demonstrated when punishing a student for a party invitation, or that Tufts evidenced when investigating a student paper for publishing satirical articles, but under Zaccari’s leadership, VSU has pulled it off. VSU administrators should be embarrassed—and VSU students should be outraged—to be associated with a school that so blatantly disregards its obligations under the Constitution. If Hayden Barnes can be expelled for engaging in speech clearly protected by the First Amendment, further abuses of liberty are equally possible. (And we haven’t even mentioned VSU’s horrendously unconstitutional free speech zone.) VSU joins FIRE’s Red Alert list for good reason—unfortunately, VSU has earned this shameful distinction.
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