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Jury: College president must pay expelled student $50,000

A public university president will have to pay $50,000 to a student he wrongfully expelled for protesting the campus’ construction plans, a federal jury ruled.

Valdosta State University President Ronald Zaccari was found guilty of denying due process rights to former student Hayden Barnes, who was expelled from the university in 2007 after raising environmental and cost objections to the construction of two parking garages on campus.

Barnes’ opposed the project by writing a letter to the student newspaper and creating a photo collage of the structures and Zaccari. In response, Zaccari labeled Barnes a “clear and present danger” and personally ordered his expulsion.

A federal district court ruled that forcing Barnes to withdraw from the university without so much as hearing constituted a violation of his due process rights.

“After five years, I finally feel vindicated,” said Barnes in a statement. “I hope that other college administrators take heed and see that violating students’ rights can be costly and that they will be held accountable.”

Barnes was represented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, whose president applauded the jury’s decision.

“College administrators have been blatantly and willfully violating student rights for decades, but they have far too often dodged personal responsibility. Not so today,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff in a statement. “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.”

Barnes has also sued the Board of Regents of VSU for breach of contract. That case is still pending.

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