RALEIGH — If he had it to do over, former N.C. State Chancellor James Oblinger would have taken a closer look at university policy before giving his provost, who was on the brink of resigning, a sizable severance deal this year.
And he would have been more forthcoming with the media, he said in an interview Wednesday, the same day he was identified as a finalist for the presidency at New Mexico State University, a land-grant public institution that, like NCSU, emphasizes research.
Oblinger and the four other finalists will be on campus for interviews in November, and the university expects a decision Nov. 19. He knows he'll face questions about his resignation from NCSU's chancellorship, which came amid questions about his role in the controversial hiring of former first ladyMary Easley.
One misstep: The day before Provost Larry Nielsen resigned, Oblinger brokered a deal to pay him $310,255 over three years on top of his faculty salary.
Campus leaders quickly rejected the deal, which went against university policy.
"I'm not the kind of guy who would have knowingly done something wrong," he said Wednesday. "I think, yeah, I should have reviewed that original letter [offer] to make sure policies were being followed."
Oblinger also said he now realizes he should have responded more quickly to reporters' questions in the months leading to his resignation.
Oblinger, 63, came to NCSU in 1986 as an associate dean in the agriculture school. He became provost in 2002 and chancellor three years later.
He stepped down June 9 and has been on a six-month leave before returning to the faculty. In that time, Oblinger said, he realized he still wants to be a university leader.Many of the issues he tackled at NCSU - campus construction, private fundraising, economic development and student aid - are also important in New Mexico, he said.
"I think I have something to offer still in the administrative role," he said. "I could be very contributory as a faculty member, but I think my current strength is still in these large, big-picture areas."
The New Mexico State job is the only one he has pursued since leaving the NCSU chancellorship, he said.
In a Wednesday news release, Del Archuleta, New Mexico State search committee chairman, said the backgrounds of all five finalists had been investigated.
"It is our belief that each finalist has a strong record of positive accomplishments and should advance to the next stage," he said. "Through the interview process we fully expect that the community will question the candidates and research their backgrounds. We are confident that the discussions will be open and candid. This process will serve to identify the best leader for NMSU."
Oblinger isn't the only New Mexico State finalist with baggage. Another, Richard Herman, resigned the chancellorship of the University of Illinois just last week amid an admissions scandal that has grabbed national headlines.
The other finalists are Barbara Couture, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Michael Ortiz, president, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; and Lisa Rossbacher, president, Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga.
New Mexico State is a land-grant university of about 31,000 students at five campuses. The largest, with about 17,200 students, is in Las Cruces.
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