The former provost at N.C. State University, Larry Nielsen, resigned his position as chief academic officer two weeks ago, citing stress over publicity about his handling of Mary Easley's job.
But Nielsen hasn't given up his $298,700 provost's salary.
For the next six months, Nielsen will be on a paid "study leave" with no change in his pay, Chancellor James Oblinger acknowledged in an interview Wednesday. Nielsen's pay will be reduced to $156,000 per year in late November as he returns to faculty work in the College of Natural Resources.
The chancellor said it's standard practice for a top administrator who is returning to the faculty to get time to assess his future work duties. Asked why Nielsen's salary would remain at the provost level during that time frame, Oblinger said it was part of Nielsen's contract under university policies.
"It's very standard," the chancellor said. "That is something put in administrative contracts from the very beginning."
The actual policy, however, says the leave is up to the discretion of the chancellor. The policy says the leave period can be for up to one year, though Nielsen's is for six months.
Nielsen's leave comes at a time of budgetary difficulties at the university and across state government. Administrators at N.C. State are bracing for cuts that could wipe out more than 10 percent of the university budget. Some layoffs are under way and more are likely. Already, state employees have taken pay cuts as well.
State Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat who is a chief budget writer in the House, emerged from a long meeting Wednesday afternoon after reviewing billions in cuts from the budget the House soon will propose. He said the salary issue with Nielsen needs a look.
"It concerns me, just like you hear about in the private sector, where people go off on these leaves and are still getting paid," he said. "We can't cut a job or a position, but this is something that we ought to look at and should affect their entire budget."
The House Republican leader, Rep. Paul Stam of Wake County, said he also would like to figure out how to trim Nielsen's pay in the budget. "The pay should stop the day he resigns," Stam said.
Nielsen could not be reached.
Nielsen's resignation May 14 was not forced, according to a letter Nielsen wrote and statements made by Oblinger in a news conference and in interviews since then.
He said scrutiny over his decisions to hire Easley, wife of then-Gov. Mike Easley, in 2005 and then to give her an 88 percent raise last year caused unbearable stress. It was disclosed last month that NCSU trustee McQueen Campbell, a close friend of the Easleys, played a role in the first lady's hiring. Campbell and NCSU officials previously had denied that Campbell had any involvement. Campbell recently resigned from the board of trustees.
Nielsen hoped his resignation would quiet the issue. University leaders since have called for Mary Easley also to resign, but she has refused, citing glowing job reviews and a contract that pays her $170,000 per year for the next four years.
Oblinger said Nielsen is "afforded the opportunity to go back to his college and consult with the dean of the college and the department chair and determine what the best utilization of his capabilities and expertise will be," and continue to receive his provost pay.
The difference amounts to an extra $71,350 over six months.
Bob Brown, dean of the university's College of Natural Resources, said Nielsen will keep some universitywide committee assignments from his provost's work during the study period. He is already meeting with faculty members about returning to the college's Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources.
One course per semester
Nielsen, an expert on fisheries, likely will teach one course per semester beginning in January, Brown said.
"He is looking into perhaps starting to write a book in this sabbatical period as well as developing courses in this sabbatical period and what sort of research program he would have within the college," Brown said Wednesday.
For several weeks after Nielsen resigned last month, the university would not provide his salary information, citing personnel laws that say only a person's "current" salary is public information.
This week, the university acknowledged that Nielsen's pay has not changed, even though his resignation was effective May 22.
A spokesman then said that Nielsen gave permission for his future salary to be disclosed.
"The provost will keep his current salary for the 6-month transition," spokesman Keith Nichols wrote in an e-mail message this week. "With his permission, I can tell you that his faculty salary will be $156,000."
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