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Valdosta State University: 2007’s Worst Becomes 2008’s Priority

Undoubtedly, FIRE has had an action-packed—and successful—2007. Thanks in large part to the support of readers like you, FIRE has won crucial victories for fundamental liberties at Brown University, UCLA, Central Michigan University, Colorado State University (twice!), Occidental College (finally!), the University of Delaware, San Francisco State University, Indiana University–South Bend, and Gettysburg College—and that’s an incomplete list.

But while I’m very proud of the successes we’ve earned in the year now ending, I think it’s extremely important to stay focused on the battles yet to be won. Because although FIRE corrected some particularly egregious abuses of liberty on our nation’s campuses in 2007, some of the most shocking wrongs have yet to be made right. And that’s precisely why Georgia’s Valdosta State University (VSU), my nominee for 2007’s Worst Collegiate Violator of the First Amendment, sits at the top of FIRE’s 2008 to-do list.
In a year as busy as FIRE’s 2007 has been, it was surprisingly simple to single out Valdosta State as the worst of the worst. Then again, between maintaining an impossibly restrictive free speech zone and expelling a student for nothing more than a cut-and-paste collage, VSU made it easy. Either of these jaw-droppingly unconstitutional violations would have earned VSU dishonorable mention; put together, they take the crown.
Because we’ve covered both VSU’s free speech zone and its expulsion of student T. Hayden Barnes at length in this space, I’ll refrain from repeating the details again—but if you haven’t checked out each case, I strongly urge you to do so. Our letters to VSU President Ronald M. Zaccari and University System of Georgia Chancellor Erroll B. Davis, Jr., provide complete accounts of our grievances. See for yourself why FIRE President Greg Lukianoff called Barnes’ expulsion one of the worst abuses of power he’s ever seen. Discover exactly what’s wrong with the fact that VSU allows free speech on less than 1% of its public campus—and even then only for two hours every day. You’ll be shocked. I still am. (Indeed, FIRE placed Valdosta State University on our Red Alert list for good reason.)
So instead of reviewing the details of VSU’s outrageous contempt for the First Amendment again, then, I’d rather provide a brief update on where each case stands as we head into the new year.
Hayden has secured counsel, and the administrative law judge handling his appeal to Georgia’s Office of State Administrative Hearings has granted a continuance in the case, which is now scheduled to resume in January. Of course, we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can tell the Georgia Board of Regents how you feel about their refusal to respect the First Amendment here. If enough FIRE supporters remind them of their constitutional obligations, maybe they’ll call Hayden’s hearing off altogether.
FIRE’s deadline for President Zaccari to respond to our concerns about VSU’s free speech zone passed last week, and the silence out of Valdosta, Georgia has been deafening. Of course, it’s hard to be surprised. After all, with retirement on the horizon, Zaccari probably wants to leave his reputation as someone who can’t be bothered with the Bill of Rights fully intact. As we promised Zaccari in our November 30 letter, however, FIRE remains committed to marshalling all of our available resources to end the unconstitutional quarantine he’s placed on free speech at VSU. Rest assured, Torch readers, that FIRE will fight hard to make sure Zaccari’s censorship zones don’t make it to 2009.
To close, I’d like to end 2007 by thanking each and every FIRE supporter for your efforts to help us put a stop to violations like those seen at Valdosta State. I know from personal experience that it means an incredible amount to students like Hayden to realize that they’re not alone, that abuses of power will not go unanswered. With your continued help, I’m looking forward to accomplishing even more in 2008—and I plan on starting with VSU.

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