University releases statement on newspaper adviser’s firing

East Carolina University said in a statement released Tuesday about the firing of student newspaper adviser Paul Isom that “it is important to distinguish between any personnel matter and the First Amendment.”

Paul Isom

His dismissal came two months after the paper was criticized by ECU administrators for running uncensored front page photos of a streaker.

Student Affairs Vice Chancellor Virginia Hardy says in her statement:

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. 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. …

Regarding editorial decisions in student media, we have respectfully allowed the student journalists to take their own course. We have and will continue to support their right to make decisions in publishing a newspaper for their fellow students.

The university issued its statement one day after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) asked ECU “to meet its legal and moral obligation to respect freedom of expression and to reinstate Isom immediately.”

Isom sent me this reaction to his former employer’s statement:

It’s a carefully worded statement that doesn’t actually deny a cause-and-effect connection between my firing and the students’ decision to run the photos.

Frank LoMonte of the SPLC called it a non-denial denial.

But least one news outlet has interpreted it as ECU saying I wasn’t fired for First Amendment reasons. But it doesn’t actually say that. I’m sure ECU administrators were hoping it would be interpreted that way.

As far as trusting their internal process, that’s sure not very convincing. As one of my ECU colleagues said, it basically says “Trust us. We know more than you.”

My favorite reaction to it has been a former newspaper colleague who posted on FB and said, “It seems to be incomplete, trailing off at the end. Tell them to try again.”

* ECU says adviser firing not a First Amendment issue

* East Carolinian covers its adviser’s firing