University administration terminates media adviser
On Jan. 4, administration terminated the university’s Student Media Adviser two months after The East Carolinian published nude photographs of a streaker at a football game.
Paul Isom, who was in charge of overseeing the campus radio station, WZMB; television station, Campus 31; magazines Rebel and Expressions; yearbook, Buccaneer; and The East Carolinian, had been with the university since 2008 before his dismissal.
Isom has worked as a student media adviser/director for more than 15 years.
Though his termination came shortly after the publication of the nude photos of John Sieglinger, the man who streaked at a Nov. 5 football game, the university did not cite a reason, according to Isom.
“They were very careful not to give a specific reason,” said Isom. “I asked twice.”
Isom said his dismissal was decided upon by a “team of administrators,” but that the final decision came from Chris Stansbury, director of marketing and communications.
“The fact that he was given no specific reasoning seems to point to the incident,” said sophomore Daniel Johnson. “I guess it doesn’t really seem unexpected.”
After Stansbury and a Human Resources representative delivered the news to Isom, he said he was given three and a half hours to clean out his office.
In a media advisory, Dr. Virginia Hardy, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, stated that the decision was, “a personnel matter.” Hardy also stated that there would be no further comment on the situation from the university.
The photos initially created much controversy, both at a local and national level. Administrators called the decision to publish the photos “in poor taste,” and held meetings with those involved.
In the meetings, administrators stressed that there would be consequences for the publication of pictures.
Isom was present at these meetings and had several additional meetings with university officials.
“My interactions with administration changed fairly noticeably after the photos ran,” said Isom.
Isom said that appointments he had scheduled with university officials were frequently canceled and that ask for leave time was ignored.
“I can see how the photos were considered in bad taste by the university,” said junior Child Development and Family Relations major, Kristen Caputo. “However, I feel like he is protected by the First Amendment.”
Isom is on the hunt for a new job and is considering taking action against the university.
The circumstances have already caught the eye of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va. According to its website, the agency is devoted to educating high school and college journalists of “the rights and responsibilities embodied in the first amendment and supporting the student news media in their struggle to cover important issues free from censorship.”
The center recently published an article regarding Isom’s termination and the legality of the publication of the nude photos.
“There’s no camouflaging what this is, which is retaliation for an editorial judgment made by the students that was completely within the students’ authority to make,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC. “They’re clearly punishing the adviser for something he not only didn’t control, but legally couldn’t control.”
According to LoMonte, removing Isom from his post does in fact create some concerns involving the First Amendment.
LoMonte also asserted that the newspaper’s editors might also have a First Amendment claim, since public university students typically have more freedom of speech than public university employees.
Isom recently had his exit interview with the Human Resources department of the university, but the meeting will remain confidential.
This writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.