College president fined over free speech violation

An interesting story of free speech on America’s college campuses comes to us this week from College Insurrection. Back in 2007, the president of Valdosta State University was pushing a proposal for a new campus construction project. When the plan drew criticism from one student on environmental and political grounds (from a decidedly liberal perspective) in the form of a Facebook post, President Ronald Zaccari had Hayden Barnes kicked out of school. After many years of court wrangling, Mr. Barnes appears to have prevailed.

Absurdly declared a “clear and present danger” and kicked off of campus in 2007 because of his opposition to a parking garage project that former president Zaccari saw as part of his “legacy,” Barnes filed a federal lawsuit against Zaccari and his employer in 2008…

Zaccari appealed this finding, and it went all the way to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, where Zaccari lost. When the appeals were finished and the case came before a jury, the jig was up: Zaccari personally owes Barnes $50,000—and the court has not even assessed attorneys’ fees yet.

The details of the construction project in question make the case even more bizarre.

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.

In response to Barnes’ activism, Zaccari personally ordered that he be “administratively withdrawn” from VSU in May of 2007, ignoring the concerns raised by members of his administration.

You can find a .pdf file of the Facebook post which kicked all of this off here. Aside from the obvious “no blood for oil” and green warrior bias, I’m not sure what got everyone so upset about it. (Of course, the resolution isn’t that great, so maybe I’m missing something.) Agree or disagree with the posting, though, the actions of the college president clearly seemed heavy handed. A $50K smackdown will probably send a significant message here.