The Vermont Cynic

Professor grabs student journalist and deletes photos after classroom was photographed

Ben Elfland, Senior Staff Writer

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UVM lecturer Isaac Cates stands outside of his classroom Feb. 26 in the Waterman building after his class let out. Cates said he deleted photographs of his class taken by senior Oliver Pomazi because they were a violation of privacy.

This story updated from a previous version at 12:03 a.m. Feb. 28.

UVM lecturer Isaac Cates grabbed a Cynic photographer’s arm, took his camera and — after struggling to delete the photos — handed the camera to a student to erase three photographs.

Moments before, senior Oliver Pomazi had photographed Cates’ intro to literary studies class in a Waterman classroom, while students protested racial injustice throughout the building Monday, Feb. 27.

First-year Silas Mueller, a student in Cates’ class, helped the lecturer delete Pomazi’s photos of the classroom before returning his camera, Mueller said.

“It is never under any circumstances permissible to lay hands on a person out of anger that your photograph was taken, or to resort to confiscating their property and destroying the images,” said Frank LoMonte, senior legal fellow and former executive director at the Student Press Law Center.

Professors have the authority to minimize classroom disruption. Classrooms are not automatically private places, LoMonte said.

“On the one hand, this student photojournalist should not have been in the classroom taking photos of a class while it was going on,” said Cynic Editor-in-Chief Erika Lewy, a senior.

“On the other hand, I think it’s more of an issue that a University professor would grab a student who identified himself as a journalist and destroy Cynic property. That is deeply disturbing to me.”

Cates referred to the incident in a Feb. 27 email sent to the class.

“I was right to insist that he delete the photos — and, as it turns out, it’s against both University and Cynic policy to photograph a class in progress without permission,” Cates stated. “But in the end I think I was acting more on instinct… than on rational policy, and I wish I’d set a better example for all of you.

“I’m not sure what else I could have done that really would have kept the photos from leaving the room, and in the moment, the privacy of the class seemed important.”

Before the incident, Pomazi was instructed to photograph classrooms in Waterman, he said. Some classrooms in the building were being converted into music, arts and discussion spaces by racial justice protest group NoNames for Justice.

Pomazi opened the classroom door and took photos. Cates then asked him to step inside the room, Pomazi said.

Pomazi introduced himself as a Cynic photojournalist and began to shake hands, both of them said.

Still shaking hands, Pomazi said the classroom was considered a public space, which Cates disputed, both of them said.

“I was like, ‘You should delete these photos; you took them with no permission,’” Cates said. “ He said ‘no.’”

Pomazi said he tried to remove his hand and asked Cates to release him.

“It was uncomfortable because I could feel that he was pulling me toward him,” Pomazi said. “He tightened his grip, at which point I asked him to release my hand, which he did not. He said [he would] release my hand, and proceeded to grab my right arm.”

Pomazi said Cates then took the camera from his hand.

“I grabbed his upper arm and I think that was when I took the camera, but it wasn’t rough,” Cates said.

After struggling to delete the photos taken of the classroom, Cates handed the camera to Mueller who successfully deleted all the photographs of the classroom, Pomazi and Mueller said.

Cynic photographer Oliver Pomazi is the subject of this picture which Cates took while trying to delete photos of his class Feb. 26. Pomazi said that Cates grabbed him by the arm, took his camera and handed the camera to his first-year student Silas Mueller to delete the photographs.

“I helped delete this picture because it’s our property in a private room,” Mueller said. “We had closed doors.”

Despite Cates’ and Mueller’s objections to the photos, the only legal recourse in such situations is to sue, LoMonte said.

“For example, if I come up onto the front porch of your home without permission and knock on your door, the law does not recognize a ‘right’ to shove me off the steps,” LoMonte said.

Cates returned the camera and the photographer left, both of them said.

“The point, to me, is you had a shut door,” Cates said. “You opened the door in order to take pictures of people who were sitting in the room, and to me that’s a violation — the same way it’d be a violation in somebody’s dorm room if you took pictures of them.”

Cates was concerned about the privacy of students who attended his class instead of joining the NoNames for Justice protests, he said.

“Regardless of whatever the legal issues might be, I think you’ve got to treat the classroom like a private space or else you can’t have conversations,” Cates said.

Immediately after the incident, Pomazi spoke to UVM police services Lieutenant Mandy Wooster, who was in the building for the protests, Pomazi said. He made an official statement to UVM police services Feb. 27.

Two students declined to comment as they left the classroom.


About the Writer
Ben Elfland, Managing Editor

Ben Elfland is the managing editor at the Vermont Cynic. He is a senior studying public communication with a minor in writing. His introduction to journalism...


11 Responses to “Professor grabs student journalist and deletes photos after classroom was photographed”

  1. ryan on February 28th, 2018 8:26 am

    fire that big bully. what a prick

  2. Jimbo on February 28th, 2018 2:16 pm

    As someone who was there, I can verify first hand that this reporting is false.

    Well done cynic, keep up the bad work.

  3. L on March 2nd, 2018 9:07 am

    As another who was actually there in the classroom, I wholeheartedly second that. This is just bad journalism.

  4. Lauren on February 28th, 2018 7:38 pm

    First of all, a news source is supposed to be objective. Not obviously in favor of your own interests and people.

    Second of all, Cates totally had the right to demand the pictures be deleted, and the student saying no to that is being extremely rude, disrespectful, unprofessional, and is violating others rights.

    Third, as someone who knows the student and knows many others who have had less than stellar interactions with the student, I am not at all doubtful that the student disregarded other people’s personal boundaries, as he is known for that.


  5. Emily on March 1st, 2018 4:55 pm


  6. Colby on March 3rd, 2018 12:35 pm

    1) I fail to see how this is really biased
    2)No. These photos are neither owned nor controlled by Cates nor any student in the class. He has no right to delete them. None.
    3) Being impolite isn’t illegal.
    4) Then why is Cates quoted?

  7. MB Alumni on February 28th, 2018 9:40 pm

    Siding with Cates on this one. To barge into a classroom that’s in-progress, take photos of people without their consent with the intent to publish to a mass audience… doesn’t matter to me if the photos were legal or not, there’s no tact in that and Isaac was clearly trying to protect the privacy of his students. Should he have done it without physically touching the student or taking the camera? Yeah, maybe he could have called and gotten someone involved who could have mediated, I dunno. But ultimately, to me his actions didn’t harm anything but the photographer’s ego. And the photographer was definitely being an insensitive jerk. Rude. #TeamCates

  8. Seth on March 1st, 2018 12:06 am

    Three people are at fault here.

    Cates should not have touched the student and not forcefully taken his camera. This is illegal and unethical.

    The reporter should not have gone into the classroom and taken photos of students. Audio and visual recording of individuals in this setting, a closed room, is illegal and unethical.

    The Cynic should not have covered this story how they did—by using these photos how they did and by curtailing the story in such a manner. Also, the Cynic shouldn’t be reporting on its own mistakes, not without another source/authority involved, one who can be objective. One cannot, in the end, judge oneself.

    I really hope everyone can learn from this. This whole thing is rather silly—everyone is at fault.

    However, since The Cynic, being a news publication, holds immense power. This seems to be yet another step in the wrong direction. Newspapers should not ruin lives in order to benefit from sensationalism. The fact that this was covered how it was covered, and perhaps that it was covered at all, is troublesome.

  9. Seth on March 1st, 2018 12:13 am

    I’m actually adding on to my previous comment.

    I don’t believe this story should have even been covered. Unless charges are filed, from either end, The Cynic should err on the side of not harming people.

    Right now, the only purpose this article ends up functioning as is to slander Cates and garner sympathy for the reporter and The Cynic.

    The more I think about it, the more I think anyone sits down and really looks at this article, and what this really, actually means—this is nothing short of horrifying. And it’s rather sad to see The Cynic devolve into CNN level quality of journalism. Then again, The Cynic still has not apologized for lives ruined in the past, for when they covered the drug bust years ago and the person in question ended up being found innocent. But that person had to move states away and never was able to finish college, all so the Cynic could write a good story.

    I really, really hope The Cynic improves on this. It’s scary to think that these are the next crop of journalists entering the field, especially at a time when we need journalism more than ever.

  10. Matt on March 1st, 2018 12:02 pm

    Student acts like an asshole, professor intervenes. Butthurt news staff writes boring article.

  11. Lily on March 1st, 2018 11:15 pm

    Poorly reported article which the Cynic published to stir fires… this is no surprise.
    My biggest issue is the way this takes attention away from the protests and causes MORE controversy regarding the protests. This photographer was not affiliated with the social movement and this kind of self-serving behavior should not be rewarded with front page coverage.

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Professor grabs student journalist and deletes photos after classroom was photographed