UVa-Wise upholds expulsion over class paper; Iraq vet plans to reenlist to repay student loans

Rain Smith • Mar 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Steven Daniel Barber, 23, says a culture of fear has displaced rational thought.

The Iraq War veteran's comments came Tuesday, shortly after learning his expulsion from the University of Virginia at Wise had been upheld. He has been prohibited from attending classes since Feb. 29 -- the day after sharing a story in which a character contemplates murdering his professor, then turns to thoughts of suicide.

Barber wrote the piece for his creative writing class.

"It's the nanny state ran amock; political correctness to the extreme," said Barber in a phone interview with timesnews.net.

"Nobody goes after Stephen King, nobody goes after William Shakespeare. This is a whole new low."

Calls to the UVa-Wise Office of College Relations for comment were not returned on Tuesday afternoon. Chancellor David. J. Prior heard an appeal of the expulsion Monday night. Barber says he was contacted Tuesday morning by Prior's secretary, informing him the expulsion had been upheld.

"I am surprised," Barber said. "Chancellor Prior is a reasonable man, and if anyone was going to give me a fair hearing it would have been him. It's a case where the culture of fear has displaced rational thought."

After Barber submitted the creative writing story, officials searched his dorm room for the weapon his fictional character kept under a pillow. Though no weapons were found, Barber told campus police he had three handguns in his car, and a concealed weapons permit for each.

Campus officials then required Barber to undergo a series of mental heath evaluations. Campus police escorted Barber to a Frontier Health facility in Big Stone Gap. On Monday, Campus Safety Chief Steve McCoy said Barber was “involuntarily transported” for medical evaluation; that temporary detainment is “similar” to involuntary commitment, “as far as a police officer is concerned.”

With his appeal now lost, Barber says his will seek a civil suit against UVa-Wise to have his expulsion reversed. He may also explore compensation for financial damages.

"Because I'm expelled I'm immediately going to have to start paying back on my student loans," Barber said. "The only way I can pay for it is if I go back into the military. The plan now is to reenlist and start a lawsuit."

"I took an oath to protect and defend the constitution, and now I'm getting in trouble for expressing my rights," the veteran added.

For Barber, a return to the military had always been an option -- after he graduated from college. That way he could serve as an officer.

"I never anticipated having to go back in as enlisted," he said in discouraged tones. "But if that's the best way to generate some money so I can pay back my loans, that's what I'm going to do."

Barber reports the Chancellor's secretary provided no explanation of why the expulsion was upheld. He says his creative writing class had previously read a story in which a girl murdered her boyfriend. Meanwhile, his piece centered on a student contemplating the killing of a professor -- with no violent action actually taken.

"He doesn't do anything other than drinking and drug use and writing," Barber said of his character. "There is no violence. But yet, everybody assumes that the character is the writer, which couldn't be further from the truth."

Barber is confident a court of law will allow him to be reinstated at UVA-Wise. He also admits the experience could hinder his dreams of eventually entering law school.

And, despite his battle with, "political correctness to the extreme," the Southwest Virginia native remains loyal to UVA-Wise, his school of choice.

"I have a lot of pride in the school, I love the professors there," he said. "I only put in an application to one school, and that was Wise. That's where I wanted to go, and where I want to go now."

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