DURHAM — Charlie Nelms, the departing chancellor at N.C. Central University, will receive a severance worth a little more than two months’ salary, or nearly $57,000, according to a UNC system official.
On July 26, Nelms, 65, abruptly announced his retirement as chancellor, effective Monday. Charles Becton – a Durham attorney, law professor and former state Court of Appeals judge – will take NCCU’s helm as interim chancellor next week.
Nelms agreed to help with the transition through the end of August, said Laura Fjeld, vice president and general counsel of the UNC system’s General Administration. Nelms will receive any accrued leave balance plus two months’ and six days’ salary, covering the period from Sept. 1 to Nov. 6. That comes to $56,972.
Fjeld said she could not comment on the reasons behind the terms of the payout.
“I’m not permitted to comment on what could be confidential personnel information,” she said.
Nelms’ announcement, weeks before the start of a new semester, stunned the campus. Earlier this week, Fjeld and UNC President Tom Ross met behind closed doors with the NCCU trustees to discuss a personnel matter. Ross said he could not talk about the personnel matter, but when asked if it involved Nelms, he responded, “in part.”
Nelms emailed the campus about his retirement, saying he wanted to spend the rest of his career ensuring the success of students at historically black universities. He did not specify his plans. He said now was “an excellent time to pass the baton to a new chancellor” who could carry out his strategy for raising academic standards. But he didn’t leave Ross and the trustees enough time to put a permanent successor in place.
The chancellor, who received high marks for his emphasis on quality service and tougher academics, canceled a gathering to speak with reporters earlier this week.
The UNC system’s policy on administration separation of presidents and chancellors provides that those who serve in the position for at least five years be entitled to a one-year leave with full salary if the leader plans to return to the faculty.
That’s what occurred last year with the departure of John Bardo, longtime chancellor of Western Carolina University. He received his so-called research leave of almost $280,000. But Bardo did not return to the classroom; earlier this year, he went on to become president of Wichita State University.
Also last year, Rosemary DePaolo, chancellor of UNC Wilmington, retired without intent to return to the faculty. She took only accrued leave balances without a payout, Fjeld said.
Besides the provision for research leave, the policy describes a chancellor’s separation from the university.
It says: “In some cases, a chancellor or a president may not be assuming a faculty position. It may be in the best interest of the University and a chancellor for the University to negotiate a severance agreement with a chancellor. In these circumstances, the president may, at the president’s discretion, determine that the circumstances justify providing severance pay in the amount of the chancellor’s full administrative pay for up to 90 days.”