East Carolina University: Student Newspaper Adviser Fired After Publication of Streaker Photo

Category: Free Speech
Schools: East Carolina University

On November 8, 2011, independent student newspaper The East Carolinian published an uncensored photo of a streaker at an East Carolina University (ECU) football game. A university administrator warned The East Carolinian’s editor in chief that the newspaper would “face consequences” for the decision to run the photo. On January 4, 2012, ECU fired Paul Isom, the newspaper’s adviser. On January 6, FIRE warned ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard that by firing Isom in retaliation for the newspaper’s editorial decision, ECU had violated the free speech rights of its students. On April 20, 2012, Isom and ECU released a joint statement announcing that Isom would receive a $31,200 settlement from ECU and acknowledging that Isom was not fired for cause.

  • East Carolina fires student media director in wake of campus newspaper streaker photos

    January 17, 2012

    Near the start of the year, officials at East Carolina University fired Paul Isom, the school’s student media director, without warning or much explanation.  The sudden termination has prompted speculation among the media and free speech advocacy organizations that it was in retaliation for controversial photos published by ECU’s student newspaper.  In November, The East Carolinian published a series of front-page pictures of a streaker racing across the field at halftime of a university football game.  At least one of the shots featured easily-discernible full-frontal nudity. At the time, East Carolinian editor-in-chief Caitlin Hale explained that editors “felt that our audience, which is primarily the ECU student body, […]

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  • ECU asks for OK to release firing details

    January 12, 2012

    GREENVILLE — An East Carolina University official said Wednesday that the school is seeking consent from Paul Isom, former director of student media, to release confidential personnel information to describe the process that led to Isom’s firing. Isom was dismissed from his role as student media adviser last week, two months after The East Carolinian newspaper published nude photos of a streaker at an ECU football game. Free press and student rights groups have come to the defense of Isom in the past week. A statement from ECU’s attorney, Donna Gooden Payne, said ECU continues to disagree with statements by […]

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  • ECU: Firing is ‘correct and legal’

    January 11, 2012

    East Carolina University on Tuesday said the termination of its student newspaper adviser was “correct and legal” after First Amendment groups criticized the move. Officials released a statement in response to increasing calls from national free speech organizations to reinstate Paul Isom, who was fired on Jan. 4 from his position as student media adviser, two months after The East Carolinian printed photos of a streaker at a Nov. 5 football game. “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 […]

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  • East Carolinian Editor-in-Chief speaks on the firing of school’s media adviser (exclusive)

    January 11, 2012

    East Carolina University has yet to provide a reason it fired Paul Isom, the school’s student media director. His firing comes two months after the student paper published a full-frontal photo of a streaker who took the field during a Nov. 8 football game. Isom had been advising student media since 1994 and at ECU since 2008. Members of “The East Carolinian” editorial board say they were told by ECU administrators that they would face “consequences” for printing the photo, an apparent First Amendment violation, but students who work at the paper never expected something like this. Last Wednesday, ECU director […]

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  • ECU defends firing of newspaper adviser

    January 11, 2012

    GREENVILLE — As criticism mounts over East Carolina University’s firing of the adviser to its student newspaper, a university official on Tuesday defended the dismissal, saying it was related to an undisclosed personnel matter separate from any First Amendment issues. “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,” said a prepared statement by Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs. ECU officials have been the target of anger after the firing last week of Paul Isom, the director […]

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  • ECU Says Adviser Firing Not First Amendment Issue

    January 10, 2012

    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 […]

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  • Update: Fight to reinstate former adviser to The East Carolinian heats up

    January 9, 2012

    GREENVILLE, N.C. – The fight to get the ECU student run newspaper’s student adviser his job back is heating up. Last week, East Carolina University officials dismissed Paul Isom from the job he’s had since 2008. ECU would not comment further stating that it was a personnel issue. Isom says it’s due to the publishing of the full frontal nude pictures of a streaker at an ECU football game. According to the Student Press Law Center, a public institution’s student adviser cannot tell the editors of the paper what to and what not to publish if what they are publishing […]

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  • FIRE’s Top 3 Free Press Cases

    January 31, 2013

    Over the years, FIRE has repeatedly gone to bat for student newspapers and student journalists faced with censorship. That censorship came in many forms, ranging from newspaper theft, reduced support from student activity funds, and the firing of faculty advisors, to prior review and editorial control of content. Since it’s Free Press Week, here, in no particular order, are three of the most egregious examples of free press violations from FIRE’s case archives. 1. Prior Restraint at Quinnipiac University Prior restraint was the censorship tool of choice for administrators at Quinnipiac University (QU) from 2007 through much of 2008. Back […]

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  • Free Speech Victory at East Carolina University: $31,200 Settlement for Newspaper Advisor

    April 23, 2012

    In a victory for freedom of the press, East Carolina University (ECU) has agreed to pay former student newspaper advisor Paul Isom $31,200 after firing him because the newspaper printed photos of a streaker. FIRE and groups including the Student Press Law Center had helped Isom defend free speech on campus.  As FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley commented to the North Carolina press, “It’s been obvious from the beginning that East Carolina University fired Isom because of the photos, and the university has failed to provide the public with a scrap of evidence to the contrary. It’s unfortunate that […]

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  • Free Speech Victory at East Carolina University: $31,200 Settlement for Newspaper Advisor

    April 23, 2012

    GREENVILLE, N.C., Apr. 23, 2012—In a victory for freedom of the press, East Carolina University has agreed to pay former student newspaper advisor Paul Isom $31,200 after firing him because the newspaper printed photos of a streaker. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) worked with Isom in defense of free speech. “It’s been obvious from the beginning that East Carolina University fired Isom because of the photos, and the university has failed to provide the public with a scrap of evidence to the contrary,” said FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley. “It’s unfortunate that the taxpayers of North […]

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  • Weeks Later, No Answers from East Carolina University on Firing of Newspaper Advisor

    February 15, 2012

    For weeks now, East Carolina University (ECU) has been under pressure from FIRE, the media, and the general public after its firing of Paul Isom, adviser to The East Carolinian student newspaper, after controversial photos of a streaker appeared in the paper’s front pages.  ECU has been torched in the press and deservedly so, given its ham-fisted handling of the case in addition to the firing itself. ECU’s public statements have only fanned the flames, and Adam has appropriately dissected them in a pair of blog posts—the first, on ECU’s statement essentially telling the public, “trust us, we’ve got this”; […]

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  • Media Hammers East Carolina University for Adviser’s Firing

    January 20, 2012

    Here on The Torch, we last posted about East Carolina University’s indefensible firing of student media adviser Paul Isom a week ago, as Adam took ECU to task for the school’s embarrassing attempts at damage control. In the week since, we’ve been focused on our recent victories at Syracuse University and the University of Florida, but we certainly haven’t forgotten about ECU’s First Amendment violation—and the press hasn’t, either.  Let’s start with the student media. Admirably defending the free press rights of their peer publications, editors at The Spinnaker of the University of North Florida penned an editorial last week […]

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  • East Carolina University Digs Deeper Hole with Second Public Statement in 2 Days

    January 12, 2012

    Yesterday I deconstructed East Carolina University’s pitiful public statement invoking the “just trust us” defense after it fired the adviser to The East Carolinian because the independent student newspaper (like it or not) published uncensored photos of a streaker at an ECU football game. Today, I repeat: Whoever does damage control over at East Carolina University has been doing a pretty poor job. This is because ECU put out another public statement yesterday, basically claiming that if it only could release confidential information about fired adviser Paul Isom, everyone would know that ECU has been right all along. What’s so […]

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  • East Carolina University’s Pitiful Statement About Firing Advisor

    January 11, 2012

    Whoever does damage control over at East Carolina University has been doing a pretty poor job. Not only has the university embarrassed itself nationally and locally (Channel 3, Channel 9, Channel 17 …), but now ECU has put out a statement basically saying, “trust us,” as though this will make all those pesky journalists and groups like FIRE, the Student Press Law Center, the National Press Photographers Association, and College Media Advisers go away.  ECU has given the public not a single reason to trust it, having warned the student newspaper, The East Carolinian, that there would be “consequences” for […]

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  • National Press Photographers Association Criticizes ECU Firing of Newspaper Adviser

    January 11, 2012

    The National Press Photographers Association has joined FIRE, the Student Press Law Center, and the numerous others who have criticized East Carolina University (ECU) for its firing of newspaper adviser Paul Isom. As has now been widely reported, Isom was fired by ECU following the publication of unedited photos of a streaker at an ECU football game published by The East Carolinian, for which Isom served as adviser. FIRE quickly responded to this blatant assault on the newspaper’s rights with a letter to ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard last Friday.  NPPA President Sean D. Elliot writes in the NPPA’s letter: It is […]

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  • Firing of ECU Media Adviser Sparks Widespread Response

    January 10, 2012

    East Carolina University’s decision to fire its Director of Student Media last week has sparked a widespread response.  For those new to this case, Isom’s termination comes in the wake of a decision by the editorial board of student newspaper The East Carolinian to run uncensored photos of a streaker at an ECU game on the front page of their issue on November 8, 2011. As Jaclyn wrote on January 6, ECU’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy called the decision to run the photos “in very poor taste,” and noted that ECU officials did not support the decision […]

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  • Groups challenge adviser’s firing

    January 10, 2012

    by Jackie Drake The Reflector   National advocacy organizations are challenging East Carolina University’s decision to fire the adviser of the student newspaper. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter to Chancellor Steve Ballard on Friday asking the university to reinstate Paul Isom, who was fired Wednesday from his position as student media adviser. The decision came two months after the student-run East Carolinian printed unaltered photos of a nude streaker at a Nov. 5 football game. The university did not publicly release a reason for the dismissal and will not comment further, citing personnel confidentiality. The […]

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  • FIRE Intervenes after East Carolina University Fires Newspaper’s Adviser over Streaker Photo

    January 9, 2012

    On Friday, Jaclyn wrote about East Carolina University’s ill-advised decision to fire Paul Isom, adviser to student newspaper The East Carolinian, after the newspaper printed an uncensored photo of a man who streaked at a football game. The East Carolinian and the Student Press Law Center had already run stories on the case, and the Chronicle of Higher Education had a story on it by the afternoon. By Friday night, FIRE had intervened with a letter to East Carolina University (ECU) Chancellor Steve Ballard, explaining that the university had violated the First Amendment when it fired Isom. FIRE’s letter pointed […]

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  • Following Publication of Streaker Photos, Student Newspaper Adviser Fired

    January 6, 2012

    The East Carolinian and the Student Press Law Center both reported yesterday that Paul Isom, Director of Student Media at Eastern Carolina University (ECU), was fired on Wednesday. Isom’s advising portfolio included the campus radio station, television station, yearbook, and several student magazines. But it was a student editorial decision by The East Carolinian, the independent campus newspaper, that apparently landed him in hot water with ECU administrators.  On November 8, 2011, The East Carolinian published uncensored photos—including a sort-of-full-frontal shot—to accompany an article about a streaker at an ECU football game. The pictures prompted some outcry, and copies of […]

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