The language police: a cautionary tale

T. Hayden Barnes knows what it’s like to be a victim of the language police. His is a cautionary tale for the rest of us.


T. Hayden Barnes

It began a long, long time ago. In March 2007, Valdosta State University (VSU) in Valdosta, Georgia, announced plans to spend $30 million to build two parking decks for 2000 vehicles on campus.

On April 19, Barnes wrote a thoughtful letter to the Editor of the VSU ‘Spectator’ newspaper questioning the wisdom of the decision to build “two large, expensive and ugly” parking decks and calling on the Faculty Senate and Student Government Association to press VSU’s president, Ronald M. Zaccari for answers on numerous questions associated with the plan.

On April 26, Barnes wrote to Zaccari asking for an exemption from the proposed $100 student fee to finance construction of the garages. In return he would contribute $100 to an environmental cause on campus. Attached to his appeal was a flyer replicating a posting on his Facebook page depicting the “Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage”, a sarcastic reference to concerns Zaccari had expressed in a meeting about his “legacy” as VSU’s president.


Reaction was swift. 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.

On May 7, Zaccari wrote to Barnes asserting that because of his behavior and the flyer he was “a clear and present danger” to the university and had been administratively withdrawn from the school.

Barnes appealed to the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. “I hope for redress, so as not to materially interfere with my constitutional rights to due process…,” he said.

Barnes sought help from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit educational foundation supporting due process and freedom of expression.

In January 2008, Barnes, in cooperation with FIRE, filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia against VSU, Zaccari and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

The Board of Regents reversed Barnes’ expulsion, but the lawsuit went forward.

Three years later…..

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia rules in Barnes’ favor. The Board of Regents appealed.

Eight years later…..

On July 23, 2015, more than eight years after his expulsion, Barnes’ lawsuit against VSU and former VSU president Ronald Zaccari concluded with the announcement of a final $900,000 settlement.

“It has been an epic journey,” said Barnes.


P.S. – Barnes ended up graduating from Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, GA.






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