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Ex-provost's pay package larger than disclosed

North Carolina State University trustees are examining documents that show that a severance package for former provost is larger than disclosed or stipulated in his hiring agreement. Larry Nielsen resigned amid public scrutiny of the employment of then-First Lady Mary Easley.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State University trustees are holding emergency meetings to examine documents that show that a severance package for a former provost is much larger than disclosed.

The documents also show that Larry Nielsen requested a lawyer to handle any civil or criminal action taken against him for actions done as an N.C. State employee. Chancellor James Oblinger passed that request onto the Attorney General's Office.

Nielsen stepped down as provost in mid-May, citing public pressure over how he handled the hiring of then-first lady Mary Easley in 2005 and her promotion and raise in 2008. He and Oblinger have denied any wrongdoing.

On Friday, the new trustees chairman Bob Jordan asked the board to review what he had been told was a deal that would allow Nielsen to draw his $298,700 salary as provost for another six months. During that period, Nielsen is supposed to teach and conduct research for in the College of Natural Resources.
However, documents released Sunday by the university show that Chancellor James Oblinger, who also denies any wrongdoing by Nielsen, negotiated a better pay deal for the former provost. The documents show that pay offered to Nielsen by Oblinger exceeds what was previously disclosed and what Oblinger offered when he hired Nielsen in 2005.

When asked about the discrepancy, university spokesman Keith Nichols took the blame, but wouldn't disclose who gave him the information, saying it was a personnel matter.

A letter signed by the chancellor and dated the day before Nielsen resigned stipulates that his salary will be reduced over a three-year period. He won't draw the salary of a senior professor until July 1, 2012.

After drawing his full pay as provost through the rest of 2009, Nielsen will be paid $251,372 from Jan. 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011. The next fiscal year, his salary will drop to $204, 043. The following year, Nielsen will draw a salary of $156,715 – that of a senior professor.

The deal could be violation of a university policy that limits payouts to one year. It also goes beyond what Oblinger offered Nielsen in a June 22, 2005, letter hiring him as provost:

"Should you chose, or be asked, to relinquish your administrative duties ... for the first six months, you would retain your administrative salary to prepare for teaching, research and or/extension responsibilities to be negotiated with the Dean of the College of Natural Resources. Should you have served as provost for five years, this period of time would be one year."

The typed 2005 letter lists Nielsen's salary offer as $255,000. The number is scratched out and replaced by the handwritten number of $298,700.

The hiring letter says that Oblinger would forward it to the Board of Trustees for approval. The letter about his severance package was copied to Nielsen's human-resources file and to Robert Brown, dean of the College of Natural Resources, but it was not provided for review or approved by the trustees.

Jordan called emergency meetings to review the pay package on Sunday night and Monday afternoon.

Jordan became chairman of the trustees board after the former head, McQueen Campbell, resigned after his role in Mary Easley's employment was also questioned. Campbell, who was twice appointed as a trustee by then-Gov. Mike Easley, has likewise denied wrongdoing.

Despite calls for her resignation, Mary Easley has refused to step down from her $170,000-a-year job.

A federal grand jury has subpoenaed Mary Easley's personnel records and any records the State Auditor's Office might have from any investigation into her hiring or the N.C. State provost's office. The FBI is also investigating reports from the News & Observer that Campbell flew Mike Easley on his private plane but never disclosed the flights in campaign finance reports.

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Geof Levine, Photographer
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