Cut aims at series Easley runs at NCSU

Staff WriterJune 5, 2009 

  • A subcommittee in the state House voted 7-6 Thursday to pass an amendment that would eliminate state funding from NCSU's signature speaker series, led by former first lady Mary Easley.

    IN FAVOR: Hugh Blackwell, a Valdese Republican; Mark Hilton, a Conover Republican; Bryan Holloway, a King Republican; Linda Johnson, a Kannapolis Republican; Marian McLawhorn, a Grifton Democrat; Ray Rapp, a Mars Hill Democrat; and Laura Wiley, a High Point Republican.

    OPPOSED: Larry Bell, a Clinton Democrat; Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat; Maggie Jeffus, a Greensboro Democrat; Marvin Lucas, a Spring Lake Democrat; Earline Parmon, a Winston-Salem Democrat; and Cullie Tarleton, a Blowing Rock Democrat.

— A week after N.C. State University officials moved to block the largest part of former first lady Mary Easley's job, lawmakers on Thursday cut money for a substantial part of her workload that is still intact.

A House budget committee voted to eliminate any money for the high-profile speakers series at NCSU that Easley was hired to oversee since 2005. The committee approved a $105,000 reduction in the university's budget to accomplish the action, an amount that matches what officials said was spent from state funds on the speakers series in the current fiscal year.

That money would be redirected to three community college programs for deaf students that faced cuts in next year's budget, which begins July 1.

The change at NCSU was sponsored by a freshman Republican lawmaker from Burke County, Hugh Blackwell, who said that state money would be better used on helping hearing-impaired students than on the program run by Easley, who has been the subject of public scrutiny for nearly a month.

"I wanted to restore the programs for the deaf," Blackwell said. "The focus recently on her position helped me identify a source of funds to do it. ... N.C. State is certainly free to pay for its speaker program from private funds."

The vote was 7-6, with approval coming from Blackwell, four other Republicans and two of the three Democratic co-chairmen on the House budget committee that deals with education concerns. The six "no" votes were all Democrats, who sided with arguments that no evidence had been produced to show that the speakers series at NCSU was unsuccessful or poorly run.

"My concern was how much into the micromanagement of the university do we want to get into," said Rep. Rick Glazier, a co-chairman of the committee, who opposed the amendment.

Glazier said he personally agrees with numerous calls from NCSU and UNC system leaders for Easley to resign her position. But he did not think it was appropriate to target the speakers series funding as a way to remove her.

"This is not the way to do it," Glazier said.

Last week, NCSU announced a moratorium on new centers at the university, including a public safety leadership center that Easley was to create and direct. It amounted to 35 percent of the workload on a five-year, $850,000 contract she received last year.

Easley has also led the Millennium Seminars series, a speaker circuit that brought figures such as former President Bill Clinton and former Clinton Cabinet secretaries Robert Reich and Donna Shalala to campus. It is 30percent of Easley's current workload.

The action Thursday will make it harder for NCSU to keep state funding for the portion of Easley's salary and other expenses that covered the speakers series. To restore that money now, legislators would likely have to find a similar cut somewhere else, said Rep. Mickey Michaux, a key budget writer.

The provision specifically says that there will be no state funding for the speakers series or the public safety center.

Blackwell said he included the safety center language in the amendment to ensure that the university doesn't change course and add the program later.

"Just covering the bases on that one, so to speak," he said.

The calls for Easley's resignation in recent weeks followed reporting that showed ties between her and a close friend and member of the board of trustees at NCSU, McQueen Campbell. Campbell later acknowledged a role in helping Easley get her job at NCSU in 2005.

Easley has hired a lawyer and says she will not resign. The lawyer has declined to comment on the actions affecting her job.

An NCSU spokesman, Keith Nichols, said it is not clear what the university would do if the speakers series funding cut is approved by the full legislature.

"If they can take away that money," he said, "I don't know whether the university would have to go looking for that funding from other sources, or if at that point we just have to fold our tent."

Staff writer Jay Price contributed to this report. or 919-828-4840

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