ECU faces criticism over unexplained firing of Student Media Advisor
Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, January 19, 2012 00:01
January 5, nearly two months after ECU's student newspaper, The East Carolinian, published uncensored photos of a nude streaker at a football game on its front page, the university terminated their student media adviser of four years, Paul Isom. Now facing criticism from multiple first amendment advocacy groups in addition to faculty and students, administrators at the UNC system school seem at a loss to explain the apparent connection.
The initial November publication of John Sieglinger's unseasonable choice in attire created a minor controversy at the time, with Vice Chancellor Virginia Hardy saying that the decision to run the photos was "in very poor taste." Isom has said that his treatment by ECU administration changed noticeably after the photos were run.
Organizations including the Student Press Law Center and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education quickly moved to condemn the faculty member's termination. The SPLC's executive director Frank LoMonte stated that ECU administrators were "clearly punishing the adviser for something he not only didn't control, but legally couldn't control."
Editor-in-chief of the newspaper Caitlin Hale took a more circumspect approach, however. "I'm still a student here and I don't want to get in trouble on top of all of this," she said. "But I don't think they would do it just because of the photos. They have to have some other reason that we don't know about."
In her comments, Hale credited Isom with being a good adviser, yet pointed out that he was present when the decision was made and bore the responsibility as the liaison between the administration and the newspaper.
On Jan. 10, a spokesperson for ECU announced that they were seeking Isom's consent to release the reasons behind his dismissal in order to "distinguish between any personnel matter and the First Amendment." Isom, who still has yet to receive such an explanation, has indicated that he will not consent until he is informed first. "I'll decide whether or not I'll waive my rights after I see their explanation. This is an insulting way to treat a member of the ECU community," said Isom in a recent email to The News & Observer.