by Jackie Drake
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 knowledge of the facts at hand,” Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs, said in the statement.
“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.”
Officials would not answer further questions about the statement. The university has not publicly stated the reason for Isom’s termination, citing personnel confidentiality.
ECU received letters on Isom’s behalf from the Foundation for Independent Rights in Education and the Student Press Law Center.
“It doesn’t really tell me anything,” Isom said of Tuesday’s statement. “It didn’t deny there was a cause-and-effect connection between my firing and the photos. I don’t think their understanding of the First Amendment is where it needs to be. And we’re all supposed to trust their internal process? That’s not all that convincing.”
Isom said he obtained a copy of his personnel file Tuesday, “and as I already knew, there was nothing negative in it.”
The decision to print the photos was made by student editors, who have not commented on the situation, but Isom said he stands by their decision.
ECU supports the right of student media outlets to make independent editorial decisions, Hardy said in the statement.
“We have and will continue to support their right to make decisions in publishing a newspaper for their fellow students,” she said.