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 Yet, the president persisted in ordering that Barnes be “administratively withdrawn.”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.