Thursday, October 25, 2007

Free speech? You're sick 

The new tactic of campus officials in suppressing free speech seems to be the declaration that the annoying speaker is a threat to the campus and needs mental screening and evaluation. The latest example happens at Valdosta (GA) State, where T. Hayden Barnes, a student with strong environmental views, had the temerity to criticize an administrative decision to build new parking garages.
On April 13, Barnes posted a collage of pictures on his page, including pictures of [VSU President Ronald M.] Zaccari, a parking deck, a bulldozer excavating trees, a flattened globe marked by a tire tread, automobile exhaust, a gas mask, an asthma inhaler, a public bus underneath the �not allowed� symbol, United States currency, and a photocopy of the Climate Change Statement of the American College & University Presidents� Climate Commitment. The collage was also marked with a variety of captions, including �No Blood for Oil,� �More Smog,� �Bus system that might have been,� �Climate change statement from President Zaccari,� and �S.A.V.E.�Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage,� a sarcastic reference to concerns he says Zaccari had expressed in a meeting about his �legacy� as president of VSU.

Barnes also penned a letter to the editor of the VSU student paper about the proposed parking deck plans on April 19 and wrote to Zaccari on April 26 to ask for an exemption from the mandatory student fee designated for funding the parking garage construction.

According to VSU, Barnes also �posted a link on his website page to an article discussing the massacre at Virginia Tech�; linked to an advertisement for a film competition sponsored by commercial photography site, which featured the tagline �Shoot it. Upload it. Get famous. Project Spotlight is looking for the next big thing. Are you it?�; and commented on his website that he was �cleaning out and rearranging his room and thus, his mind, or so he hopes.�

On May 7, Barnes found a notice of administrative withdrawal from Zaccari underneath his dormitory door. The notice informed Barnes that �as a result of recent activities directed towards me by you, included [sic] but not limited to the attached threatening document [the Facebook collage], you are considered to present a clear and present danger to this campus.�
FIRE has stored the Facebook page which looks pretty innocuous. I'm going to guess that Barnes committed the same 'crime' as Troy Scheffler did -- he mentioned Virginia Tech without denouncing guns. Unlike Scheffler, Barnes actually went ahead and got his required psychiatric evaluation and submitted it to the university, which is now dragging its feet on reinstating the student to campus. All about a parking garage.

Pres. Zaccari deserves some scorn for his poor handling of this situation. But I want to call attention to this increased use of psychiatric screening as a retaliation for speech administrators don't like. Here's a case from Regent University, a private school that expelled a student for posting an obscene picture of the school's president. These three cases within the last six months point up a disturbing new trend. All the more reason for you to join us for Indoctrinate U this weekend at the Oak Street Cinema in Minneapolis!

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