An East Carolina University official said today that the decision to fire the student newspaper adviser was related to an undisclosed personnel matter separate from any First Amendment issues.
"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," said a prepared statement by Virginia Hardy, vice chancellor for student affairs.
ECU officials have been the target of criticism after the firing last week of Paul Isom, the director of student media since 2008 and adviser to The East Carolinian newspaper.
Two months ago, the newspaper published nude photos of a streaker who was arrested after he ran across the football field. The photos stirred controversy and university officials said the paper's decision to publish the photos was "in very poor taste."
Isom has said that his reviews at ECU had been positive and that his relationship with administrators deteriorated after the streaker photos were published. Isom has also said it was not his role, nor would it have been legal, to prevent the student editors from publishing the photos.
So far, university leaders have not disclosed the reason for the firing, prompting widespread speculation that it was related to the streaker photo brouhaha.
Free press advocates and student rights groups have sent letters to ECU, asking for an investigation into the firing and the reinstatement of Isom.
Hardy's statement reiterated support for the student journalists.
"The First Amendment demands public universities provide student journalists the opportunity to make their own news decisions and learn from them without interference," the statement said. "ECU puts that principle first. It has upheld it, especially in this instance."