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Students wring nearly $1 million out of their colleges for violating their free-speech rights

Two big settlements landed this week in lawsuits facilitated by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, both involving students whose colleges tried to limit or punish their speech.

Rather than let its president personally face hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, Valdosta State University agreed to a $900,000 settlement with Hayden Barnes, FIRE said Thursday.

As The College Fix reported in January, an appeals court ruled that Valdosta State President Ronald Zaccari could be held personally liable for having Barnes expelled in 2007 for making an environmental-protest collage against proposed school parking garages, which Zaccari alleged was a “threatening document.”

FIRE President Greg Lukianoff called the school’s treatment of Barnes “one of the worst abuses of student rights” the group has ever seen. The settlement means “would-be censors at public universities nationwide have 900,000 new reasons to respect the free speech and due process rights of their students.”

FIRE also won its sixth victory under its Stand Up for Speech litigation project, which launched a year ago, with a smaller settlement with California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, it said Thursday.

The school agreed to revise its “restrictive speech codes,” which were used to stop animal-rights activist Nicolas Tomas from handing out flyers on campus without getting permission from an office that’s only open on weekdays, as The Fix noted. It’s the fourth free speech zone eliminated in the wake of Stand Up for Speech litigation.

Cal Poly Pomona agreed to pay Tomas $35,000 in attorney’s fees and damages. FIRE said it’s challenging two more free speech zones in ongoing litigation.

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IMAGE: Foundation for Individual Rights in Education


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