A federal jury today found former Valdosta State University (VSU) President Ronald M. Zaccari personally liable for $50,000 for violating the due process rights of former student Hayden Barnes in the case of Barnes v. Zaccari. In May 2007, Zaccari expelled Barnes for peacefully protesting Zaccari's plan to construct two parking garages on campus, calling a collage posted by Barnes on his personal Facebook page a "threatening document" and labeling Barnes a "clear and present danger" to VSU. Barnes first came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help in October 2007.
"College administrators have been blatantly and willfully violating student rights for decades, but they have far too often dodged personal responsibility. Not so today," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "We hope this serves as a much-needed wake up call to college administrators that it's time to start paying close attention to the basic rights of their students."
"After five years, I finally feel vindicated. This is a victory for me but it's also a victory for students everywhere," said Barnes. "I hope that other college administrators take heed and see that violating students' rights can be costly and that they will be held accountable. I thank my legal team and FIRE for making this victory possible and my friends and family for standing by me through this difficult fight."
Barnes' ordeal began in the spring of 2007, when he protested Zaccari's plan to construct two new parking garages on campus at a cost of $30 million. By posting flyers and sending emails to Zaccari, student and faculty governing bodies, and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, Barnes expressed his concerns and proposed what he saw as environmentally friendly alternatives. Barnes also penned a letter to the editor of the VSU student newspaper about the proposed parking garage plans and wrote to Zaccari to ask for an exemption from the mandatory student fee designated for funding the construction.