Campus Free Speech

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.

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  1. So that’s $225k for Barnes, $225k for FIRE’s attorneys, and $450 for Uncle Sam.

    Seems fair,

    1. I though court awards were not subject to tax. Could someone with knowledge of tax law please confirm or deny?

        1. Curious, I just googled 1099 and a few related links.

          It appears the law is different in the US and Canada.

          For the US, it looks like it is taxable.

          In Canada, it isn’t taxable unless it is compensation for wages lost due to unfair dismissal.

          1. It depends on the judgment and what kind of damages they are for. I’m not a tax attorney, so I don’t know the details that well, but not all judgments are taxable.

      1. Court awards related to physical injuries are generally not taxable.

        Court awards related to anything else are generally taxable.

        See IRS Publication 4345.

        Please do not rely on this as legal advice.

        1. This is why any settlement should be “net”. As in the fucker not only pays the settlement, but also the taxes on that settlement.

          This was the result of Congress’ lame attempt to stem high settlements and damage awards that were “politically incorrect” by making them subject to taxation. All it actually did was fuck over the people injured.

          1. It’s a settlement so the parties have pretty much free reign to agree to what terms they like, subject to a judges rubber stamp. If it was a judgment for damages I’d agree with you about the net thing, but presumably the parties got what they bargained for here.

  2. What an ass,a admin,having a building built in his name uses his office to silence someone who want to stop his momument. How petty is that? Try to ruin a guy’s life for his ‘legacy’? Wood chipper for you bitch!!!

    1. They weren’t actually going to name the building, a parking garage/office building, after the university president. The impetus behind my political cartoon was, I felt at the time, that the university president was overly concerned with his legacy…which, in part, was and is a wasteful parking garage.

      1. Tons of respect for you man, staying at it for 8 years. Seriously, you are an asset to the defense of free speech. Thank you.

  3. Just because they serve the intellectual development of university students doesn’t mean they want to hear about the intellectual development of university students. And frankly, given the ideological bent of most university students, I don’t either.

    Half-joking aside, what a ham-handed move on the administration’s part, especially when they could have diverted the kid into an endless bureaucratic treadmill and killed whatever (probably minor) passion he had for the project. He made a collage. Overnight vigils, starvation protests, or chaining himself to a tree maybe deserves a serious response. But for a collage? Come on.

  4. Zaccari was an art professor.

    You know which other temperamental artist acted like a dictator?

    1. Pablo Picasso?

    2. My 7 year old?

    3. Steve Jobs?

    4. Charlie Chaplin?

    5. Paula Abdul?

    6. Guys, it was Hitler!
      Sheesh… I mean, come on! Two of you listed Jews.
      Hitlers isn’t even, let’s say, 50% Jewish! Come on!

      1. Is 50% the Semitic version of the one drop doctrine? Because Adolf had at least a few drops of Abraham in his ancestry…

  5. It was an “assault” collage complete with a barrel shroud and “that thing that goes up”.

    1. Well, at least “that thing that goes up”. Here is the collage, really.

      1. The dude in the top right kinda looks like classic Obi Wan

        1. That was the university president.

      2. What does “No blood for oil” have to do with the parking garage?

        Not that I’m advocating that anyone use blood for oil. That will totally destroy your engine.

  6. The real crime is that petty tyrant will never face anything from that. He’ll just keep on ruining other people’s lives and the school will pick up the tab.

    1. The university president retired shortly after I brought my case.

      However, almost all of the other employees involved are in their same jobs or have been promoted.

      1. Can you comment on how much of that $900K you’ll actually get? Since you also have to pay taxes on whatever share your attorneys got it probably won’t be much.

        1. The overwhelming majority of the settlement goes towards my legal fees.

          However, I do feel that I have been adequately compensated.

          The share that I receive will be subject to income tax, both Federal and state.

          Meaning, ironically, I will have to pay a % back to the State of Georgia.

          1. Was the firm that settled the case with you the whole 8 years? I’m curious, because as a lawyer I have to say that’s commitment on their part if so.

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