Friday, January 6, 2012

ECU Fires Student Media Faculty Advisor; Nude Student Photo in Student Daily Blamed

GREENVILLE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05:  Head coach Ski...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeOne could say that "a bad streak" caused journalism professor Paul Isom his job at Greenville, North Carolina-based East Carolina University.

During his tenure at ECU, which began in 2008, Isom oversaw student-run media on campus and was advisor for The East Carolinian  newspaper. The paper's November 8, 2011, edition ran a memorable front-page, frontal-nudity photo featuring 21-year-old John Sieglinger streaking across the field during halftime festivities honoring the military of an ECU-Univ. of Southern Mississippi football game. Sieglinger told the student daily: "It was something that I wanted to do before I died." Having on one's bucket list the goal of displaying one's bucket to a stadium full of people may warrant its own separate blog post, but this item is about the ensuing action by ECU officials and the First Amendment hornet's next that has been stirred up.

The East Carolinian editor at the time said access to unedited, factual photos was a right of the ECU student body, even if the photos involved an unclothed ECU student's body. University officials condemned the photo as being in poor taste.

Prof. Isom, who was fired Wednesday, nearly two months after the Sieglinger photo ran, contends faculty advisors provide students with resources necessary to publish, but otherwise, stay out of the editorial decision-making process. The university declined a request by WITN-TV for a copy of Isom's termination letter, claiming the issue was a personnel matter and that the letter was not a public record because Isom's dismissal was not for disciplinary reasons.

College faculty advisors cannot engage in prior review of student-run newspapers at public universities without running into a First Amendment problem--that's the naked truth.

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