FIRE’s Letter to Associate Vice Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, J. Burns Newsome, October 31, 2007

By October 31, 2007

October 31, 2007

Associate Vice Chancellor J. Burns Newsome
Office of Legal Affairs
Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

270 Washington Street, S.W.

Atlanta, Georgia 30334-1450

Sent via U.S. Mail and Facsimile (404-657-7913)
Dear Associate Vice Chancellor Newsome:

Thank you for your October 24, 2007 response on behalf of Chancellor Erroll B. Davis, Jr., regarding the administrative withdrawal of former Valdosta State University (VSU) student T. Hayden Barnes.

Unfortunately, you seem to have misunderstood FIRE’s call for Chancellor Davis’ administration to “immediately drop its opposition to Barnes’ appeal, reverse the administrative withdrawal order against him, and ensure that any record of this matter be expunged from his administrative record.” You wrote: “Notwithstanding the student newspaper articles which you cite in your letter, I can assure you that Chancellor Davis has never opposed any student’s appeal to the Board of Regents.”

However true, such a pronouncement is of course quite beside the point, and your selective quotation of FIRE’s request suggests a willful misunderstanding. Indeed, our demand could not be clearer. Because the Board of Regents recommended that Barnes’ appeal be heard by an Administrative Law Judge under the purview of the Office of State Administrative Hearings, the interests of Chancellor Davis and the Board of Regents are now being represented by Thurbert E. Baker, Attorney General for the State of Georgia, in a hearing scheduled for November 26, 2007. We ask simply that the Chancellor and the Board of Regents recognize the legal and moral folly of arguing against the Bill of Rights and end their misguided defense of VSU President Ronald Zaccari’s administrative withdrawal of Hayden Barnes, a punishment based solely on clearly protected speech.

With regard to Barnes’ rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), FIRE can only say that we wish the delicate concern for Barnes’ rights displayed here had been extended to his constitutionally guaranteed liberties during his time as a student at Valdosta State. Regardless, attached please find Barnes’ signed waiver of his FERPA rights, granting the Chancellor and all members of his staff full liberty to disclose and discuss the matter at hand with FIRE employees. (A copy of this waiver was sent via fax to your office on October 24, 2007.)

We again urge VSU and the Board of Regents to show the courage necessary to admit VSU’s error. We remain committed to using all of our resources to see this situation through to a just and moral conclusion.

Because of the time-sensitive nature of the current proceedings, FIRE asks for your response by November 9, 2007. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
William Creeley
Senior Program Officer
cc:

Governor Sonny Perdue, State of Georgia

Angie Allison, Office of the Governor

Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr., United States House of Representatives

Representative Ron Borders, Georgia State House of Representatives

Thurbert E. Baker, Attorney General, State of Georgia

Honorable Dennis R. Dunn, Deputy Attorney General, State of Georgia

DeBrae Kennedy, Assistant Attorney General, State of Georgia

Chancellor Erroll B. Davis, Jr., Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Chief Academic Officer Lisa Rossbacher, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Chief Operating Officer Rob Watts, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Senior Vice Chancellor Thomas Daniel, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Associate Vice Chancellor John Millsaps, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Allan Vigil, Chair, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

William H. Cleveland, Vice Chair, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

J. Burns Newsome, Associate Vice Chancellor, Office of Legal Affairs, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Kenneth R. Bernard, Jr., Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

James A. Bishop, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Hugh A. Carter, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Robert F. Hatcher, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Felton Jenkins, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

W. Mansfield Jennings, Jr., Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

James R. Jolly, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Donald M. Leebern Jr., Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Elridge McMillan, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Patrick S. Pittard, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Doreen Stiles Poitevint, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Willis J. Potts, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Wanda Yancey Rodwell, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Benjamin J. Tarbutton, III, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Richard L. Tucker, Member, Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Ronald M. Zaccari, President, Valdosta State University

Laverne L. Gaskins, University Attorney, Office of Legal Affairs, Valdosta State University

Louis Levy, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Valdosta State University

Kurt J. Keppler, Vice President for Student Affairs, Valdosta State University

Russ Mast, Dean of Students, Valdosta State University

Sharon Gravett, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, Valdosta State University

Encl.

Schools: Valdosta State University Cases: Valdosta State University: Student Expelled for Peacefully Protesting Parking Garages