ECU Says Adviser Firing Not First Amendment Issue

East Carolina University says the firing of its adviser to the student-run newspaper is not connected to a First Amendment issue of the university interfering with editorial decisions of the paper.

Last week Paul Isom was fired nearly two months after The East Carolinian published an uncensored photo of a streaker at a football game. Isom said publishing the photo caused him to be let go as director of student media at the university.

A national group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has called for Chancellor Steve Ballard to reinstate Isom, saying his firing violates the First Amendment.

But in a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Vice Chancellor Virginia Hardy says there are two separate issues. Hardy says those who are connecting Isom's dismissal with the First Amendment don't have full knowledge of the facts. "We ask all advocacy groups and the public to trust our internal process, which has been deliberate, correct and legal, as we move forward to address these two separate issues," Hardy said in the statement.

In November Hardy said the university didn't agree with the publishing of the nude photo and would be having discussions with those involved.

In her latest statement, Hardy says the First Amendment demands public universities allow student journalists to make their own editorial decisions. "ECU puts that principal first," said Hardy. "It has upheld it, especially in this instance."

The university has not said why it fired Isom, and has refused to release any public documents on his dismissal.

On its website, the foundation wrote "ECU's decision to fire Isom will result in an impermissible chill on all student media with advisers, who are now subject to termination whenever the university disagrees with students' editorial decisions. FIRE has asked ECU to meet its legal and moral obligation to respect freedom of expression and to reinstate Isom immediately."


ECU Statement

Statement by Dr. Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs, on East Carolina University’s record and responsibilities in regards to the First Amendment and its student-run newspaper, the East Carolinian:

East Carolina University is concerned that a decision to change leadership in its director of student media role has been connected to a First Amendment issue without full knowledge of the facts at hand. It is important to distinguish between any personnel matter and the First Amendment.

We ask all advocacy groups and the public to trust our internal process, which has been deliberate, correct and legal, as we move forward to address these two separate issues.

The First Amendment demands public universities provide student journalists the opportunity to make their own news decisions and learn from them without interference. ECU puts that principle first. It has upheld it, especially in this instance.

We support The East Carolinian fully. Students have been the central focus of what we have done and the decisions that have been made. We have involved them openly when it was constructive and useful for their education, including holding open, informational discussions with the editorial staff to talk about the impact of news decisions.

Regarding editorial decisions in student media, we have respectfully allowed the student journalists to take their own course. We have and will continue to support their right to make decisions in publishing a newspaper for their fellow students.


Previous Story

A national group is calling on ECU to reinstate the adviser of the student newspaper who was recently fired.

The group "Foundation for Individual Rights in Education" has sent a letter to East Carolina University Chancellor Steve Ballard, saying the firing of the ECU adviser to the student newspaper violates the First Amendment. Paul Isom lost his job last week, two months after The East Carolinian published an uncensored picture of the streaker at a football game. The group is asking ECU to reinstate Isom.

On its website, the foundation wrote "ECU's decision to fire Isom will result in an impermissible chill on all student media with advisers, who are now subject to termination whenever the university disagrees with students' editorial decisions. FIRE has asked ECU to meet its legal and moral obligation to respect freedom of expression and to reinstate Isom immediately."



Previous Story:

The adviser to the student-run newspaper at East Carolina University has been fired, nearly two months after the paper ran the nude photo of a streaker.

Paul Isom says he was fired Wednesday by the university. He says the streaker photo is what "started it all".

The newspaper came under fire after it ran a front page photograph of John Sieglinger who streaked onto the field at the Southern Miss game during half-time. The unedited photo of Sieglinger showing frontal nudity was published November 8th.

Isom tells WITN News that he was informed Wednesday he had four hours to clean out his office and leave the university. Isom said he was given no explanation, other than ECU "wanted to move in a different direction."

In November ECU says the decision by the newspaper to publish the photo with full frontal nudity "was in very poor taste."

At the time, Vice Chancellor Virginia Hardy said the university would be having "conversations with those who were involved" in this decision in an effort "to make it a learning experience." Hardy said the leadership at East Carolina did not agree with the decision to publish the photo, nor did it support it.

Isom told WITN he was surprised by the decision to let him go saying, "In college student media, the adviser stays out of the editorial process, my job is to give them the resources they need, whether that's equipment, training, what have you, to make the best decisions they can, then get out of the way. Unfortunately folks at ECU, the administrators who make the decisions, don't seem to understand first amendment issues or journalistic issues and I paid the consequences for that."

WITN requested a copy of Isom's dismissal letter, but the university said it was not public record since the employee was not fired for disciplinary reasons.

In a news release, Vice Chancellor Hardy said Isom was dismissed Wednesday. “We will not make any additional comment because this is a personnel matter,” Hardy said.

Isom oversaw all campus student media outlets and he directly advised three of them, including the student-run The East Carolinian newspaper, The Rebel and the Buccaneer yearbook.

Isom had been with ECU since 2008.


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