God help us if we do.
A court case out of Valdosta last month illustrates that, in a most glorious fashion. A federal jury ordered former Valdosta State University President Ronald M. Zaccari to personally pay $50,000 in damages to a student he expelled without notice or redress – or actual cause.
The student, Hayden Barnes, had irritated the imperious Zaccari in 2007 by publicly and repeatedly – but utterly peacefully and lawfully, with letters, emails, fliers and web postings – protesting the president’s
plans for a parking garage on campus.
Without so much as a double-secret probation, Zaccari unilaterally had Barnes “administratively withdrawn.” No notice, no hearing, no due process whatsoever. And no law or ethics to back him up.
It was as if this public university were Zaccari’s kingdom, and he the sovereign.
Thankfully, the state Board of Regents reversed Zaccari’s unlawful act in 2008 – and the courts have brought further justice.
This case is highly notable and crucially important – which puts it one notch below “landmark” – for several reasons.
First, it reasserts freedom on college campuses.
Imagine having to do that. Baby boomers and their elders remember well the fiery anti-war and anti-discrimination protests in the 1960s, many of the best of which erupted on college campuses. Back then, institutions of higher learning were considered bastions of freedom and free speech.
Not today, when “speech codes” and tyrannical administrators try to stifle freedom of thought and speech – and even punish students for exercising those basic constitutional rights.
The case also happily punishes this autocrat personally – meaning he, not the taxpayer, is responsible for the $50,000.
That doesn’t happen near enough for our taste.
“College administrators have been blatantly and willfully violating student rights for decades, but they have far too often dodged personal responsibility. Not so today,” declared Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which represented Barnes. “We hope this serves as a much-needed wake-up call to college administrators that it’s time to start paying close attention to the basic rights of their students.”
The case also should serve as a splash of cold water in the face of any college administrator who thinks he can rule with an iron fist and violate constitutional and civil rights. We would simply ask them: What’s in your wallet?
At bottom, this is a defeat of tyranny. Zaccari ludicrously argued that Barnes’ activism presented a “clear and present danger” to him and Valdosta State. The only clear and present danger was to our freedoms, and Zaccari was the one who posed it.
The only question is how anyone under him at Valdosta State was able to rationalize going along with Zaccari and carrying out his contemptible anti-American acts.
Each one of them ought to pony up voluntarily and double the $50,000 going to the student.