Court rules for ousted student and against former president in Valdosta State University case

Free speech and due process advocates ought to read this verdict in a case involving a Valdosta State University student kicked out of the school because of his protests of a proposed new parking garage.  A ruling Friday found for former student T. Hayden Barnes in his case against the former VSU president  Ronald Zaccari.

The ruling is lengthy, but it is worth reading for the recounting of how many university officials advised Zaccari against ousting Barnes, who went on to graduate Kennesaw State and is now a law student in Maryland. Yet, the president persisted in ordering that Barnes be “administratively withdrawn.”

United States District Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr., ruled that Zaccari violated Barnes’ constitutional right to due process. Citing case law in private college cases, the judge ruled that the  actions violated the contract created between VSU and Barnes via the student handbook. The court also found that because Zaccari ignored “clearly established” law in punishing Barnes,  he did not enjoy “qualified immunity” and is personally liable for damages. Damages will be decided in the next month.

Barnes received legal help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

In a statement in response to the ruling, Barnes said:

I am pleased with Judge Pannell’s ruling. His order vindicates us and the facts we have alleged all along. President Zaccari deliberately ignored sound, reasoned University procedure and in doing so stripped me of my Constitutional rights.

I hope this order serves as yet another reminder to college and university administrators around the country that they are not immune from the Constitution.

18 comments Add your comment

No Brainer

September 8th, 2010
3:51 pm

What other decision could there have been? Hopefully it will be a warning to all the administrators out there who think they are above the law.


September 8th, 2010
4:14 pm

What qualification is needed to be a college president? Amazing. At least it’s a good thing that Zaccari is personally liable for damages, not the state.


September 8th, 2010
4:51 pm

Georgia has had too many “sketchy” college presidents lately. The BOR should also be held liable.

Atlanta mom

September 8th, 2010
8:40 pm

I’m glad to hear that Zaccari is personally liable. But who has paid his lawyer fees to date?

bootney farnsworth

September 8th, 2010
9:27 pm

nothing new here. BOR presidents act as if they are above every law, rule, or often even the most basic standards of public decency.

BOR presidents often go on personal witch hunts against faculty and
staff who they feel threatened by. staff, who have no protection, get fired. faculty, who have some protection (tenure), get professionally mistreated by stripping them of positions of importance and being reassigned to positions they can’t succeed in.

bootney farnsworth

September 8th, 2010
9:30 pm

@ catlady,

in many ways we’re still suffering from the Stephen Portch disaster. he put in presidents who deliberatly courted conflict with their schools and widened the divide between the BOR and the legislature

bootney farnsworth

September 8th, 2010
9:32 pm

@ Atl mom,

you’ve been paying. me too. VSUs legal will have been fighting this fight. now that he’s been ruled personally libel, the BOR is gonna act like they never knew him – unless he’s being some kind of useful idiot

Dr. John Trotter

September 9th, 2010
12:24 am

Bully for you, Mr. Barnes. As citizens of the U. S. A., we have certain rights under the U. S. Constitution. I have found that government officials and law enforcement officers do not too much like the rights guaranteed under this consitution, especially those outlined in the Bill of Rigts. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees Freedom of Speech and the Right of the People to Peaceably Assemble to Redress Grievances before the Government. So many flag-toting fellows (and I have no problem with flag-toting; in fact, this is good!) simply do not really like what the flag stands for. I am glad that you stood up for your rights, and I am glad that Judge Charles Pannell spoke with a clarion voice. Whitfield County ought to be proud of him. (Judge Pannell formerly was a Superior Court Judge in the Whitfield-Murray Superior Court District.)


September 9th, 2010
7:52 am

Ask Valdosta about its free speech zone.


September 9th, 2010
8:11 am

Bootney, how true, how true. He screwed up a lot of things for students as well as faculty. I think the BOR thought since he had that British accent he was “all that.”

VSU Alum

September 9th, 2010
8:35 am

The student made veiled death threats against the president of the school and wins? Only in America…

Ole Guy

September 9th, 2010
6:28 pm

Alum, I do not know just exactly what is meant by “veiled death threats”. Quite possibly, “veiled” is simply another means of expressing “perceived”.

I would imagine that, as an activities fee-paying student, Mr. Barnes simply envisioned a more appropriate target for the funds, while, at the same time, saw no practical need for a parking garage which, in all probability, would have simply been yet another demand on limited student resources.

Mr. Barnes should be applauded for his aggresive interests in the manner in which HIS money is to be best applied. As undergraduate students, most simply focus their attentions on issues of “self-serving” motive, ie: women, food, booze, study (at least that was my order of priority back in the prehistoric days!).

Mr. Barnes, good luck in your legal studies!


September 10th, 2010
12:52 am

Good for Mr. Barnes. I wish him much success in his legal studies. I would suggest that Mr. Zaccari’s superiors assign all incoming freshmen an essay. Topic: “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

VSU Alum

September 10th, 2010
8:44 am

When a student has a gripe with an administrator, then labels a proposed building as a “memorial” to that administrator, what else can be implied?

Maureen Downey

September 10th, 2010
9:49 am

VSU Alum, I have to say that it is not unusual to use the word memorial in this situation, that it was something that the college president would leave behind in his wake after he left the school. I have used the word myself when writing about politicians pushing through big projects that they see as their legacy. The definition does not always connotate death:
A recognition of meritorious service. Something, such as a monument or holiday, intended to celebrate or honor the memory of a person or an event.

VSU Alum

September 10th, 2010
3:31 pm

You honor someone’s memory after they are dead.


September 10th, 2010
4:09 pm

this is awesome man


September 10th, 2010
6:25 pm

I read the entire decision. It is well reasoned. It bothers me that an out of control school administrator could run up all these damages and legal fees because there was no mechanism to stop him from doing so. His behavior was particularly outrageous because he was taking his paycheck on the premise that he knew how to run a college and that would include how to stay out of legal trouble and how to protect the school from legal disasters such as this. What was the state paying him for? Now the taxpayers are on the hook for damages because when you wrongfully and without privilege hit someone else on the head you have to pay damages. And VSU Alum – get over it. The “memorial” line of defense you attempt to use to support your side is worthless. When a school kicks out a student they know they have to have a noticed hearing to do so. You can’t collect a paycheck as a school administrator if you don’t get that. The best you can do is a suspension pending a noticed hearing which must occur promptly. How difficult is that? You can’t just say “Begone, you pest”.

And it sounds like the student did nothing to merit discipline and could have been ignored, (just like the Koran burning preacher of a congregation of 30). These gadflys become significant in the scheme of things only when people take them seriously and make them important when in truth they are just nothing. An administrator worth his pay would have taken no notice of him. He was never a threat to the parking garage scheme anyway. This is just a dolt of an Administrator and his crew who never came out and told him “don’t do it, because you’ll be liable personally for damages and the student will get it reversed right away” in writing. That is how a real attorney handles her “client”.

The state should call in the plaintiff’s lawyer and negotiate a settlement before the nice judge sticks them with a judgment for wasting the court’s time and the plaintiff’s litigation expenses.