University condones naked attack on freedom of press

Rob Burkett / Washburn Review

Recently East Carolina University followed in the traditions of other schools that have trampled on freedom of press.

Paul Isom, the now former faculty advisor for student media at the university, was let go due to a decision made by the editorial staff of the newspaper. In the Nov. 8 edition of the East Carolinian, a photo appeared on the front page of a student streaking across the football field during the previous weekend’s game. In the picture, full frontal nudity was prominently displayed.

While this might be in poor taste, it is still the independent voice of student journalism that made the decision to publish something like that. The result of the decision to publish the photo was a press release from the university.

“We will be having conversations with those who were involved in this decision in an effort to make it a learning experience,” said Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs, in a statement shortly after the photo was published. “The goal will be to further the students’ understanding that with the freedom of the press comes a certain level of responsibility about what is appropriate and effective in order to get their message across.”

Two months later, Isom found himself in his office facing director of marketing and communications Chris Stanbury and a member of the human resources department. They were there to inform Isom that he was being let go because according to Isom, “they were moving in a different direction.”

Along with the Student Press Law Center, The Reviewcalls upon East Carolina University to produce an actual reason for the dismissal. The removal of Isom is a strike against first amendment rights and is a disturbing step in the trend of the muzzling of student publications across the country. If supposed institutions of higher learning aren’t able to conduct themselves in a way that honors the fundamental laws of the nation then what kind of lessons are they really passing onto the students that pass through their halls?

Our own editorial staff faced an issue similar to this earlier this year with an info graphic that appeared in our first issue of the 2011-2012 year. As some will recall an image appeared on the opinion page of The Reviewdepicting through a satirical picture the events surrounding the dismissal of Vershon Moore from the football team.

The only thing that occurred in our case was a little pushback on the issue of taste of the way we treated the subject matter.

Just as an aside, Washburn’s administration never once raised issue with what we did. The administrations steadfast refusal to infringe upon our first amendment rights as practicing journalists is something that we as an editorial staff thank them for.

That said, we would hope that if an issue of content standards was in conflict with what the university feels is appropriate, that administration comes to the editorial staff first.

Regina Cassell has been and continues to be a dedicated faculty advisor for Washburn Student Media. All of the editorial staff feel secure in the fact that Cassell will back us up and we in turn feel an obligation to speak up and make known that we appreciate that support. Cassell has been a supportive advisor who always gives her perspective on our decisions but allows us to grow by making decisions that we have to live up to and own.