A college tramples First Amendment
In response to this story about Valdosta State University expelling a student as "a clear and present danger" because he was protesting the building of new parking garages, Christopher sent the following letter to the President of the University as well as the Chairman of the Board of Regents and the Governor and Lt. Governor of Georgia. After Christopher's note are a response from the school's victim, a response from the State of Georgia, and my response to Georgia.
I was stunned to read about the effective expulsion of Hayden Barnes from VSU, a decision made by Ronald Zaccari. Mr Zaccari claims that Mr. Barnes was a "clear and present danger" because of his obviously protected free speech. I can only conclude that Mr. Zaccari has been so sheltered as to have no idea what a "clear and present danger" actually looked like. I would also submit that Mr. Zaccari's action demonstrate an unfitness to judge either the mental state of a student or the proper actions to be taken.
Mr. Zaccari has stolen from Mr. Barnes. He has stolen his time, his money spent to this point on his VSU education and he has stolen his good name. I am sure that you have sufficient education to know what Shakespeare said about name stealing. Mr. Zaccari has done this in a clear effort to suppress free speech. As such I would encourage you to make this situation right. To restore Mr. Barnes to his place on campus. To refund him any moneys spent in his own defense. And to run multiple full page ads in the student paper apologizing to Mr. Barnes for Mr. Zaccari's egregious incompetence. I think you should use exactly that phrase. To right this wrong is what a good man would do.
I do not agree with much of what Mr. Barnes stands for, however I am zealous in the defense of free speech. As such I would also encourage the board of regents to consider seriously the following actions as a condition of Mr. Zaccari's continued employment. That he a.) at his own expense attend classes about the Bill of rights. These classes should be comprehensive. I would suggest that they be tailored for him to address areas where his education seems to be lacking. I would suggest Dr. Tom Krannawitter of Hillsdale College as a good candidate to educate Mr. Zaccari. And b.) that Mr. Zaccari be educated as to what really constitutes a "clear and present danger" so as to properly recognize and deal with these sorts of things in the future. This last item is as important as the first. With out this education Mr. Zaccari will continue to come off as a hysteric.
Dealing with this properly is important. It demeans American higher education to have this kind of behavior taken by a school official. I know that it leaves me with the feeling that VSU is not a credible institution. It also causes me to be willing to gleefully give money to FIRE for Mr. Barnes' litigation against VSU, and to encourage my peers in the Hedge Fund business to do the same.
I do hope that you will act quickly and decisively.
Hayden Barnes sent this reply to Christopher:
Thank you for your letter of support. FIRE forwarded it to me.
At this time, I have been accepted to Kennesaw State University and I am beginning classes there in January, at significant personal expense, stress, and lost academic credit.
I am working with FIRE to raise awareness of my case and I am in the process of locating a private attorney to represent me.
Again, thank you for your support.
Here is the oh so courageous response from Georgia:
Thank you for your correspondence to Chancellor Erroll Davis, Jr. regarding the situation at Valdosta State University. In my interim role as Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer of the University System of Georgia, the comprehensive universities, which include Valdosta State University, report to me; thus, I represent Chancellor Davis in responding to you.
With specific reference to Valdosta State University, I am certain that you will understand that the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents us from discussing the educational record of any University System student with unauthorized third parties. As such, neither the Chancellor nor members of his staff are at liberty to discuss the specifics of any student's situation.
We appreciate your interest in the welfare of the students of the University System of Georgia.
Lisa A. Rossbacher, Ph.D.
Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer (Interim)
Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia
270 Washington Street, SW
Atlanta, GA 30334
"Creating a more educated Georgia"
And my response to that response:
Dear Ms. Rossbacher,
While I understand that your job is to use bureaucratic language to dodge the issue when something as unflattering to the University System as this comes around, your response here is particularly uncourageous and unsatisfying.
The issues being discussed are already a matter of public record. There is no violating of confidence here, nor are we talking about his "educational record" (as that term would commonly be understood) as far as I can tell. If there were extenuating circumstances beyond what's been published, I'm sure we would have heard about it. If I'm wrong, then I do not believe you would be violating a rule to say that there were factors other than what has been reported involved in the decision...but nobody has said that.
Christopher and I are interested not simply in "the welfare of the students" but in the welfare of our constitutional republic, and the plain language of the First Amendment. Indeed, if anybody should be protecting our constitution it is a government employee at a government school. Sadly, the opposite seems to be the case in this situation as in countless others.
So while I understand why you might not want to discuss a case which makes the President of VSU look so petty and silly, at least you should be honest about it and not say it's because of Hayden Barnes' "educational record" that you won't give a substantive comment.
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