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 is legal.

The Foundation for Individual Right’s in Education (FIRE) has contacted ECU on Isom’s behalf and would like them to reinstate him.

They say if ECU fired Isom due to the pictures being published violates the First Amendment.

They university says they’re working on a response to the letter from FIRE and could release it sometime later today.

You can read FIRE’s entire letter here:

— Previous Story —

GREENVILLE, N.C. – Many of you remember the full-frontal naked pictures of the ECU football streaker printed and published online by The East Carolinian, which is the ecu student run newspaper.

Almost two months to the day, the paper’s faculty student adviser was let go.

And his dismissal has many people crying foul.

Journalism is about finding the truth and at times pressing the envelope to do that.

College is where you can tip-toe that line and make mistakes while with less of a consequence than had it happened in the real world.

But that might not be the case here.

"Personally I was stunned," said Dr. Cindy Elmore, ECU Journalism Professor.

Paul Isom’s dismissal from East Carolina University was the talk of the journalism department.

On his facebook page, Isom said he was fired and that the published streaker photos started that process.

"Being a personnel decision, I don’t know everything that went into it, but it certainly seems aimed at intimidation, punishment over the streaker photos and maybe other things that have been in the student newspaper," said Elmore.

For their part, the university released a statement confirming Isom’s release and avoiding any further comment.

That lack of comment fueled the speculation.

"I think it is an unfortunate situation.  Paul is a wonderful person. I think he was in a difficult position apparently caught between the administration and the legalities of advising a student newspaper," said Dr. Brian Massey, ECU Journalism Professor.

If that is indeed the case, ECU could have some legalities on their hands.

"At a public university, the first amendment absolutely prohibits employee of the university including the adviser from overruling a lawful decision by the student editor," said Frank LaMonte. "To fire someone for failing to stop the students from publishing a particular photo is firing someone for refusing to break the law."

LaMonte says the student press law center will write the university chancellor and board of governors in an effort to get Isom his job back.

Isom talked to 9 On Your Side’s about the surprise dismissal.

"I asked them specifically what their reason was and they were purposefully vague. They didn’t want to give me a specific answer so they said we’re looking to go in a different direction," said Isom.

The unexpected dismissal Wednesday came almost 2 months to the day after the full-frontal nudity pictures of a college football game streaker were published.

"There’s a great misunderstanding about what the role of the adviser is among the administrators at ECU sadly," said Isom.

Isom said, and the Student Press Law Center confirms, as a student adviser, he cannot tell the students what and what not publish if it is legal.

Although distasteful for some, questionable for many, the published naked pictures were indeed legal.

"Everything I do as an adviser is in the best interest of the university.  If I get involved in making editorial decisions for the newspaper I open up the entire university for liability if someone did sue," said Isom.

While the student East Carolinian staff’s actions may have ultimately cost him his job, Isom said he supports their decisions, "The real issue is they have the right to do that and it sets a really bad precedent when someone is punished because the students made a decision to express themselves that way."

— Original Story —

GREENVILLE, N.C. – Officials at East Carolina University are not making any comment on the firing of the adviser of The East Carolinian.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy said, "We will not make any additional comment because this is a personnel matter."

Paul Isom, the director of student media, says he was fired, following the football streaking incident in November. He’s been with ECU since 2008.

Isom says on his facebook page that the streaker pictures started it all.

You may remember The East Carolinian posted a full frontal picture of the streaker running across the field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

21-year-old John Sieglinger of Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh was charged with indecent exposure and 1st degree trespassing. ECU Police arrested Sieglinger for streaking at the football game that Saturday.

At the time the article was published in The East Carolinian, a statement was released by Hardy that said, "The decision by The East Carolinian to publish a photo of a streaker that showed full frontal nudity was in very poor taste. The leadership at East CarolinaUniversity does not agree with that decision and does not support it."

ECU says that Isom oversaw all campus student media outlets and directly advised three of them. That includes the student-run The East Carolinian newspaper, The Rebel and the Buccaneer yearbook.

We are continuing to work on this story and will have much more tonight at five.

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