Hayden Barnes controversy

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In May 2007, T. Hayden Barnes, a student at Valdosta State University (VSU) was "administratively withdrawn" for criticizing the construction of two new parking garages on campus. University President Ronald Zaccari said Barnes's criticism was "threatening" and, over the objection of other administrators, deemed Barnes a danger to the VSU campus. In 2008 Barnes filed a lawsuit which, after several rulings and appeals, led to $900,000 settlement against the university in July 2015.[1]


Concerned that new garages would provide little incentive for VSU students to rely less on cars, Barnes openly advocated for student fees budgeted for the parking garages to be spent elsewhere such as an expanded campus transportation system. Barnes spread his message by sending letters to his student newspaper, posting flyers on campus, and including pictures of the proposed parking garages on his page on Facebook. The Facebook photos were used by Zaccari as a pretext for Barnes’ expulsion, with the President arguing they were "threatening" and that Barnes represent a safety risk.[2]

Captions for the online photos of the proposed parking garages included the words "Ronald Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage".[3] Barnes maintained this meant to suggest that students would remember President Zaccari's tenure by the garages, Zaccari said he believed otherwise.

Over the advice of other administrators, including the chief of the university police department, Zaccari "administratively withdrew" Barnes without a hearing. Barnes received notice that he had been deemed a "clear and present danger to the campus" in a letter slipped underneath his dorm-room door.[4]


In January 2008, T. Hayden Barnes filed a civil rights lawsuit for violation of his First Amendment and due process rights against the university, VSU President Ronald Zaccari, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, and other VSU administrators. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia by First Amendment attorney Robert Corn-Revere in cooperation with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).[5]

It was announced in the September 8, 2010 edition of the Valdosta Daily Times that Hayden Barnes won his legal battle against past university president Dr. Ronald Zaccari.[6] On February 7, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided that Zaccari may be found personally liable for violating Barnes due process rights. Barnes' suit against the Georgia Board of Regents for breach of contract was denied by the 11th Circuit.[7]

In July 2015, the university's insurers settled the case for $900,000.[2] In a Huffington Post column, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff wrote that administrators like Zaccari should not have the protection of the university and its insurers when they knowingly break the law, as was indicated when the 11th Circuit stripped the former president of his qualified immunity. Lukianoff offered an example of an administrator deliberately running down a student with his car, and stated this is no different. He added until administrators understand they have skin in the game, they will continue to violate student's rights if they believe the university and its insurers will take the brunt of the fall-out.[1]

FIRE rating and documentary[edit]

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) added Valdosta State University (VSU) to its "Red Alert" list of institutions that act with severe and ongoing disregard for the fundamental rights of its students or faculty members. VSU was joined by two other schools, Tufts University and Johns Hopkins University, on FIRE's "Red Alert" list. FIRE took VSU off of their "Red Alert" list after new Valdosta State President Patrick Schloss implemented new rules in September 2008 allowing a drastic increase in free speech expression.[8]

The Barnes controversy was the subject of a short documentary produced by FIRE [9] and garnered attention in the Valdosta Daily Times,[10] Chronicle of Higher Education,[11] Atlanta Journal-Constitution,[12] WALB,[13] WCTV,[14] and The Huffington Post.[15]


  1. ^ a b Lukianoff, Greg. "A Big Victory in Georgia Points the Way to Ending Abuses of Freedom of Speech on Campus". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Davis, Janel (23 July 2015). "Settlement reached in free-speech suit against Valdosta State". The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Retrieved 24 July 2015. 
  3. ^ "Photo Collage on T. Hayden Barnes’ Facebook.com Page". FIRE. October 24, 2007. Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  4. ^ "Notice of Administrative Withdrawal from Valdosta State University President Ronald Zaccari to T. Hayden Barnes". FIRE. May 7, 2007. Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  5. ^ "Student Files Federal Lawsuit Against Valdosta State University After Expulsion for Peaceful Protest". FIRE. January 10, 2008. Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  6. ^ "Student wins suit against former VSU president". Valdosta Daily Times. September 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-06. 
  7. ^ http://valdostadailytimes.com/local/x290306874/Court-former-VSU-president-may-be-found-liable. Retrieved 2012-02-11.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  8. ^ http://www.thefire.org/article/9700.html
  9. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVOF1eM2gL8&feature=player_embedded
  10. ^ http://valdostadailytimes.com/local/x1899098810/Student-wins-suit-against-former-VSU-president
  11. ^ http://chronicle.com/article/Former-College-President-Is/124331/
  12. ^ http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2010/09/08/court-rules-for-ousted-student-and-against-former-president-in-valdosta-state-university-case/?cxntfid=blogs_get_schooled_blog
  13. ^ http://www.walb.com/Global/story.asp?S=13118818
  14. ^ http://www.wctv.tv/home/headlines/102387829.html
  15. ^ Lukianoff, Greg (September 23, 2010). "A Crucial Courtroom Victory for College Students' Rights". Huffington Post.