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Stand Up for the First Amendment: Let the Georgia Board of Regents Know the Constitution Still Counts

Since his shocking case first reached our attention last October, FIRE has proudly led the defense of former Valdosta State University (VSU) student T. Hayden Barnes, expelled last May by VSU President Ronald M. Zaccari for engaging in speech clearly protected by the First Amendment. Along with many entries here on The Torch, FIRE has written letters to Chancellor Erroll B. Davis, Jr. and Associate Vice Chancellor J. Burns Newsome, letting them know precisely how unconstitutional Barnes’ expulsion truly was and demanding justice. FIRE even named VSU to our Red Alert list, to put prospective students on notice that attending VSU means sacrificing constitutional rights to freedom of expression and due process.

Now, after months of stonewalling, it appears the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia may finally have begun to realize that Zaccari’s expulsion of Barnes is completely indefensible.

FIRE has learned that next week, on January 15th and 16th, the Board of Regents will meet to discuss Barnes’ appeal of his expulsion.

Of course, this won’t be the first time the Board has considered Barnes’ case. Back in August 2007, the Board declined to overturn Zaccari’s blatantly unlawful decision to expel Barnes, deciding to send the appeal to an administrative law judge for Georgia’s Office of State Administrative Hearings instead. But apparently, the Board has finally realized that they didn’t get it quite right the first time they considered Barnes’ appeal, and they’d like to take another shot at reaching the correct decision before arguing against the First Amendment in an actual court of law. The decision to reconsider Barnes’ case comes after the Board sought and received a stay of the hearing—pretty clear evidence of a case of cold feet. As we like to say here at FIRE: colleges often have a hard time defending in public what they do in private.

Of course, FIRE welcomes the Board’s change of heart. Better late than never, right? But to make sure that the Board really understands what’s at stake, FIRE urges all those who value constitutional liberties on campus to contact the Office of the Board of Regents this week to respectfully demand that Barnes’ unconstitutional expulsion be reversed. We’re confident that if the Board of Regents is reminded of the preeminence of the First Amendment, they’ll spare themselves further embarrassment and reach the right decision this time.

You may reach the Office of the Board of Regents online or via telephone at (404) 656-2202 (for Chancellor Davis) or (404) 656-2229 (for Associate Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Newsome). Individual members of the Board of Regents may also be contacted here.

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