ECU journalism profs support fired student newspaper adviser

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East Carolina University journalism professor Cindy Elmore is standing by her former colleague, Paul Isom, who was fired this week after serving as an adviser for three years to the student newspaper. “Being a personnel decision, I don’t know everything that went into it,” Elmore told WNCT, “but it certainly seems aimed at intimidation, punishment over the streaker photos and maybe other things that have been in the student newspaper.”

The photos of a man streaking at a Pirates football game were published in November by the East Carolinian, and at the time, Isom said ECU Vice Chancellor Virginia Hardy told him to remove the photos from the paper’s website.

“I told her as politely as I could that if we do that, this will go from a controversy that will die down in a couple of days to a slam-dunk First Amendment issue that the university will lose and will go on for years,” Isom said. “Then she backed down.”

The problem, according to lawyers, is that college advisers cannot exercise prior review in a way that violates the students’ rights, and yet Isom believes that’s what he was expected to do to prevent the photos from being published. Isom told The Daily Reflector:

Ideally administrators understand the role of student newspapers as part of learning about journalism … At ECU, it’s hard to say. There doesn’t seem to be any understanding of that here.

After the incident, his relationship with the administration “changed fairly noticeably,” reports the East Carolinan. Isom told WCTI that his firing was not a complete surprise:

“In a way I was shocked and in a way I wasn’t,” said Isom, who was initially told to be out by 3 p.m. the same day. “I knew something was going on since the day the students ran the photos. My own supervisor started cancelling meetings and not responding to basic requests, such as time off.”

Isom told the Student Press Law Center he’s not sure what’s next. “How am I going to earn a living? Right at this moment, I don’t know.”

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