NORTH CAROLINA — BradleyWilson, the coordinator of student media advising at North Carolina StateUniversity, was fired this month after holding the position since December2002.
The school’s decision came less than a month after acontroversy involving a student publication. Some students and staff members,however, said they don’t believe Wilson was fired in retaliation for content.
In mid-July, the Brick,a student-produced publication forincoming freshmen that was one of several publications Wilson advised, cameunder scrutiny after the N-word appeared in one of its photos.
That photo was takeninside the NCSU’s Free Expression Tunnel, a location on campus sanctioned bythe school where the public can paint graffiti. While the racial epithet wasnot the focus of the picture, school officials pulled the 128-page publicationfor two days from bags given to incoming freshmen.
Student editors, NewStudent Orientation staff members and school officials reached a compromisewhere the book would resume distribution with stickers placed over the racialepithet.
The Aug. 2 firing came as a surprise to Wilson, who earlierthis summer received a personnel evaluation that he said was “really good.”
“Then a week after my personnel evaluation,” Wilson said,“we had the incident with the Brick,and then I went out of town for a workshop and they had dissolved my position —discontinued I think was the word that they used.”
A new “director of student media advising” position went upFriday, on NCSU’s jobs website.
Mike Giancola, director of the Center for StudentLeadership, Ethics & Public Service, was Wilson’s supervisor. Giancola saidhe made the decision to discontinue Wilson’s “coordinator” position.
“I made the decision as supervisor,” Giancola said. “I certainlyconsult with my superiors before I’m empowered to make that decisionunilaterally, but it was my decision.”
Giancola said the decision was not a response to content orthe controversy with the Brick.
“I can assure you that staff are not held to content,”Giancola said. “The decision was not about the Brick and not about content issues.”
Giancola said the transition to a director position is aresponse to changes at Student Media Advising since Wilson accepted the job in2002, including a larger advising staff that now oversees publications oncesolely advised by Wilson.
Giancola concedes the position is “not all that differentfrom what Bradley was doing six months ago. So the position hasn’t been changedall that much, but it is a correction of the position to get it in place towhere it’s better suited in our organization.”
Despite the timing, two of Wilson’s colleagues doubt the Brick incident was the reason he wasfired.
Jamie Lynn Gilbert, assistant coordinator for student mediaadvising, rejected the notion that the Brickwas the cause for Wilson’s termination.
“I think people are drawing that line, and I don’t thinkthat’s an accurate assumption,” Gilbert said.
She explained that Wilson was employed at-will, which meansemployers can discharge an employee for any reason or no reason at allaccording to the North Carolina Department of Labor. Both Gilbert and Giancolaare also employed at-will.
Tyler Dukes, production assistant at Student Media Advising,did not think the Brick incident was anattempt by the university to influence editorial control over student media andrejected that it has produced any “chilling effect” on the student journalists.
“We’re still telling our students to ask questions, to holdour university accountable, and to do their job as student reporters,” Dukessaid. “So even if somebody could make the argument that this was an attempt toinfluence coverage, they’re not doing a very good job.”
Neither Gilbert nor Dukes could pinpoint a reason forWilson’s termination because as Dukes pointed out, “we just don’t know a lotbecause we’re not privy to those conversations.”
But at a studentlevel, there remains speculation about the reasons for Wilson’s firing.
“Everyone isreally confused,” said Mark Herring, features editor at the Technician student newspaper. “Wespeculate what the reasons are for Bradley’s termination, but it’s a littlediscouraging sometimes because even though it’s all student work, it’s nice tohave advisers helping us out.”
Herring is also involvedwith the public affairs department at the WKNC radio station and served as theinterim editor in chief of the Technician.He thinks the Brick controversy was afactor in Wilson’s firing.
“He really took censorship very seriously,” Herring said.“He was unrelenting in that way, and I feel like his stance was not convenientfor the university.”
Susannah Brinkley graduated from NCSU in May and was theeditor of the Brick over the summer.It was her decision to put the stickers on the publication so as to continue New Student Orientation distribution, and she said the controversy was “absolutely not” the reason forWilson’s termination.
“Bradley was 100 percent supportive of my content I put inthere,” Brinkley said, “and I don’t think it was any action against what I didor my staff did. It was a simple mistake, and that wasn’t the reason whyBradley got fired.”
Laura Wilkinson is the current editor in chief of the Technician, and while she said shedoesn’t know if the decision to fire Wilson was about the Brick, she is more focused on who will follow him.
Wilkinson, along with other current student leaders at NCSU,will be involved in the candidate search and hiring process, Giancola said.
“We laid out what we want to see in a coordinator-directoras opposed to what we had,” Wilkinson said, “so we are looking to the future tomake it better to make the situation a good thing instead of a crisis.”
Dukes credits Wilson for getting him into journalism, and heregrets seeing him go but identifies the hiring process as the next step.
Wilson is well known in the adviser community. He has beeneditor of the Journalism Education Association’s magazine since 1998 and is aformer executive director of the National Press Photographers Association.
“He’s a friend, he’s a colleague, he’s a mentor,” Dukessaid. “We’re certainly losing something very valuable, but all we can do atthis point is figure out how we can move forward and really try to be involvedin the hiring of the new director position and really try to make sure thevalues of this new director square with our values, and that’s pretty much thebest we can do.”
With a surplus of time on his hands, Wilson said he is now goingto focus on finishing his doctorate at NCSU.
“It’s very hard to work full time and work on adissertation,” Wilson said. “I was teaching a workshop in Miami last weekand everybody … was like, ‘You have no more excuses,’ and I said, ‘Oh I havelots of excuses — I just don’t have any good ones anymore.”