Civil Liberties

This Student Was Expelled for Speech. He Just Won a $900,000 Settlement—A Mere 8 Years Later.

Free speech wins. Eventually.


Valdosta State Universty
VSU frontlawn by Jadvii

Former Valdosta State University student Hayden Barnes is $900,000 richer today after settling with former VSU president Ronald Zaccari, who had Barnes expelled for peacefully protesting the university's development plans in the spring of 2007.

Barnes was concerned about the environmental and financial cost of building a new parking structure on campus and created a collage to explain his opposition to the proposal. There was nothing disturbing or threatening about the collage, but Zaccari claimed that it constituted a threat. He had Barnes labelled a danger to campus and expelled. (Zaccari may have been personally invested in the success of the parking structure, since the university planned to name it after him.)

After VSU refused to reinstate Barnes, he filed suit—with help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine. The Reason Foundation and 13 other civil liberties organizations joined Barnes' brief.

According to FIRE:

"After eight years, and one of the worst abuses of student rights FIRE has ever seen, Hayden Barnes has finally received justice," said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. "Thanks to Hayden's courageous stand, would-be censors at public universities nationwide have 900,000 new reasons to respect the free speech and due process rights of their students."

"I am pleased to have finally reached a resolution. It has been an epic journey," said Barnes. "However, it was a worthwhile endeavor because I know as a result of this case other students will have their constitutional rights respected. I sincerely appreciate the work of my counsel and of FIRE, both of whom were instrumental in achieving justice."

This outcome is a clear and much-deserved win for Barnes, although it's disheartening that it took so long to convince a public university to recognize the most basic free speech rights of its students.