Courthouse News Service
Courthouse News Service

Courthouse News Service
Thursday, January 10, 2008Last Update: 6:28:01 PM

Valdosta State Student Says Facebook Opinion Resulted in Expulsion From School

     ATLANTA (CN) - Valdosta State University and its President Ronald Zaccari unconstitutionally expelled a student on the bogus grounds that he was a "clear and present danger" to the campus because he "posted a Web page at Facebook.com to protest the environmental impact of a proposed parking garage planned for the university," Thomas Hayden Barnes claims in Federal Court.
     Barnes claims Zaccari has had it in for him ever since he posted fliers on campus in March 2007, opposing the garage on environmental grounds and because of the "needless expense of committing more than $30 million in student fees to the project."
     Barnes claims Zaccari complained about the student's constitutionally protected speech "to other student groups, faculty members, and other administrators. He ultimately summoned Barnes to a meeting in April 2007 in which he castigated the student for questioning his judgment about the parking garage, for 'embarrassing' him, and for threatening 'the legacy' of the building program. When Barnes nevertheless wrote a letter to the editor [of the student newspaper] despite President Zaccari's pressure tactics, stronger and more direct methods were employed to solve 'the problem.'"
     The complaint continues: "Seizing upon the tragic school shootings at Virginia Tech University as a pretext, Zaccari took steps to brand Barnes as a 'danger' because of his non-violent speech activities and to remove him from campus. Knowing that Barnes had availed himself of counseling services made available to all students by VSU, Zaccari secretly and repeatedly met with Barnes' counselor seeking to justify his decision to expel him. What he learned from both the campus counseling center and from Barnes' private psychiatrist who was consulted in the matter, however, was that Barnes had never exhibited any violent tendencies and that he did not represent any danger either to himself or to others. Quite to the contrary ... Barnes had developed into an engaged student, was a licensed and decorated emergency medical technician, and was politically aware and involved."
     Barnes is represented by Gary Wiggins. See complaint.