NCSU, Easley silent on future

A prime piece of her job is on hold; her pay isn't

Staff WriterJune 2, 2009 

University leaders said Mary Easley should quit her $170,000-a-year-job at N.C. State.

Easley's lawyer, with the former state first lady silent by his side, said she wouldn't.

Now, a week later, she's still employed at NCSU despite a cost-cutting move the university announced Thursday that halted a project that was supposed to be more than one-third of her job.

Neither side is talking, so it's unclear whether there's a standoff, whether settlement negotiations are under way over the remaining four years of her contract, or whether the university is planning to fire her or reduce her pay to match her lighter workload.

The attorney that Easley has hired to handle her job-related problems, Marvin Schiller of Raleigh, said Monday that it's his policy not to discuss negotiations or even confirm them. "I wouldn't indicate something like that one way or the other," he said.

University officials, meanwhile, can't discuss any plans they may have regarding her job because it's a personnel matter protected under privacy law, said Keith Nichols, a university spokesman.

A settlement deal over a contract like Easley's would have to be approved by the university's top academic officer, the provost, Nichols said.

The former provost, Larry Nielsen, hired Easley. Nielsen resigned in May, citing stress caused by the uproar over her job. He was replaced by an interim provost, Dr. Warwick Arden, dean of NCSU's veterinary college.

Easley was hired in 2005 to teach and to run a major campus speakers series, the Millennium Seminars. Last summer, she was given a new five-year contract, an 88 percent raise and additional responsibilities, though her teaching load was cut.

The promotion led to more scrutiny over how she was hired. Last month, after News & Observer stories detailing his ties to the Easley family, McQueen Campbell, then-chairman of the NCSU board of trustees, admitted to UNC system President Erskine Bowles that he had told the university's chancellor that Mary Easley was looking for a job.

Bowles asked Campbell to resign, which he did with just weeks remaining in his term. Bowles, NCSU Chancellor James L. Oblinger and Bob Jordan, the trustees chairman elected to replace Campbell, all have called for Easley to resign, too.

Schiller countered their criticism by releasing glowing reports about Easley's job performance written by Bowles and Nielsen.

According to university documents, about 35 percent of Easley's job is supposed to be creating and running a new academic center to study public safety leadership and to provide outreach to first responders such as police officers and firefighters.

There are more than 60 such centers and institutes at NCSU. These typically focus on a specific topic but, unlike more traditional academic units, don't grant degrees. They typically are expected to seek major outside grants but can also draw on university resources, such as staff and office and classroom space.

Last week, as they told deans and department heads to start planning for a double-digit budget cut from the legislature, university leaders announced a moratorium on the creation of new centers.

UNC system officials had asked the universities specifically to look at academic centers as they ponder what to cut. Those at NCSU had been under review for months .Some older centers will be eliminated or merged, and at least one other planned center was affected by the moratorium.

jay.price@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4526

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