by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest column for Forbes focuses on a court case that has led to good news for free speech on a college campus.
Occasionally, you come across a legal case so strange that it makes you stop and wonder, “Is this even for real?”
Such a case has recently come to an end with a strong victory for student free speech rights and an equally strong rebuke to the idea many college administrators seem to have that they hold king-like powers on campus. The facts are as follows.
In early 2007, Hayden Barnes was a student at Valdosta State University in Georgia (VSU) when school officials announced plans to build a new parking garage using $30 million in student fee money. Barnes, an avid environmentalist, opposed the plan and made his opposition known. He posted flyers, wrote a letter to the campus paper and sent emails to the faculty senate, the Board of Regents, and to President Zaccari.
Barnes kept up his opposition and later posted a collage on his Facebook page in which he referred to “the Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage.” Barnes meant that as a sarcastic reference to Zaccari’s comment that the new garage would be part of his “legacy” at the university. But by now Barnes had so gotten under Zaccari’s skin that he and several administrators seized upon the post as a pretext for having him expelled as a “threat” to campus safety.
So, on May 7, 2007, Barnes received a letter from President Zaccari, which declared that “as a result of recent activities directed towards me by you, including but not limited to the attached threat document, you are considered to present a clear and present danger to this campus.” Using the current euphemism for expulsion, Barnes was informed that he had been “administratively withdrawn” from school and would have no opportunity to contest the decision. …
… Shortly thereafter, VSU was contacted by the campus watchdog group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), informing officials that their actions had violated the rights of Hayden Barnes and if it did not reverse course and re-admit him, the school would face a legal challenge. Zaccari was not about to back down and thus a protracted legal battle began.
Now, after more than eight years, VSU has made a final settlement — $900,000 to Barnes for the violation of his rights and payments to his attorneys for their work in vindicating those rights.