Four weeks ago, N.C. State University alum Gary Pearce offered Chancellor Jim Oblinger some advice on how to handle the festering problem surrounding the hiring of Mary Easley.
Pearce develops media strategy for politicians, businesses and nonprofits. "Get out of the defensive crouch, determine exactly what happened when and put it all out for the public to see," he wrote on his blog, talkingaboutpolitics.com.
Unfortunately, Oblinger didn't take that advice. He waited until a week ago to tell his boss, UNC system President Erskine Bowles, that e-mail messages showed he had been actively involved in the hiring of Mary Easley when she was first lady.
At that point, Bowles lost confidence in him.
A few weeks earlier, Oblinger wrote in a letter to The N&O: "We have been and will continue to be forthcoming about our actions." But he wasn't forthcoming then, and he wasn't forthcoming in the weeks after.
Which is sad. Because it didn't have to end this way, with Oblinger resigning. He is a talented academic and leader who loves N.C. State and, in many ways, was a successful chancellor.
Also sad was the performance given this week by Bob Jordan, the board chairman at NCSU. Jordan, a 1954 graduate, is one of this state's distinguished elders. He is a successful businessman, a former lieutenant governor and a committed giver of his time and money to many good causes, including NCSU.
Yet on Monday, Jordan let his frustration get the best of him.
At a news conference, he confronted N&O reporter Andy Curliss, the lead reporter on the story, and criticized our coverage.
"It's not fair to come in here and try to nitpick little stuff to try to tell a story," Jordan said. "Y'all took after him [Oblinger] and these little nitpicking things."
Let's assess the damage. The UNC president lost confidence in his chancellor. The provost resigned. The former board chairman changed his story about Mary Easley's hiring. And Jordan's board fired her.
Nitpicking? Bob Jordan knows better. At a moment that called for leadership, candor and courage, Jordan went for the cheap shot -- to criticize the reporter who uncovered the truth. Curliss did for NCSU what it couldn't do for itself: He got to the bottom of Easley's hiring and the provost's severance deal.
Jim Martin, faculty chairman, offered a better assessment. "In a time of crisis, leadership that is honest and credible is an absolute imperative," he said. "Sadly, that is not what we've experienced in the last few weeks."
Our coverage of Easley's hiring at NCSU grew out of our May series, "Executive Privilege," about former Gov. Mike Easley, who left office in January. Some have asked why those stories didn't run when he was in office.
The series was built around secret flights Easley took from friends, including McQueen Campbell, then board chairman at NCSU. Campbell was a key player in Mary Easley's hiring.
We first sought Mike Easley's travel documents in 2005. Gov. Easley resisted, citing security. A few months ago, Gov. Beverly Perdue ordered the records released.
Once we knew Campbell had flown the Easleys often, we asked questions about their friendship. That led us to Mary Easley's job at N.C. State.
We'll keep reporting.
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