Local News

N.C. State fires Mary Easley

Posted June 8, 2009 3:46 p.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2009 11:35 p.m. EDT

— The North Carolina State University Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday to terminate the contract of former first lady Mary Easley.

Easley has resisted calls in recent weeks to step down from her $170,000-a-year job at N.C. State, despite a growing controversy that claimed the jobs of three top university officials.

University of North Carolina President Erskine Bowles said N.C. State needed to "bring sunlight to this issue," so he backed trustees' efforts to separate themselves from Easley.

"This is obviously a distraction," Bowles said. "It's one of the reasons you want to put an end to it."

Easley couldn't be reached Monday for comment.

She has served as an executive-in-residence and senior lecturer at N.C. State since 2005, developing the Millennium Seminars speakers program and teaching a graduate course in public administration and courses in the Administrative Officers Management Program, which provides leadership training to law enforcement officers.

Last year, she received an 88 percent pay increase when she signed a five-year contract. N.C. State officials defended the move, saying she had taken on additional duties, such as directing pre-law services at the university and serving as a liaison to area law firms and law schools at other universities as she developed a dual degree program.

Provost Larry Nielsen and McQueen Campbell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, resigned last month amid questions over their roles in Mary Easley's hiring. Chancellor James Oblinger submitted his resignation Monday after officials questioned the lucrative payout he negotiated with Nielsen as he transitioned into a faculty position.

Bowles said he wasn't sure how much terminating Easley's contract would cost N.C. State, noting officials haven't discussed anything with her attorney, Marvin Schiller.

Schiller declined to comment Monday, saying he was still reviewing the day's developments to determine his next move.

Both Bowles and former Lt. Gov. Bob Jordan, who replaced Campbell as chairman of N.C. State's Board of Trustees, said they found no criminal intent or effort to defraud in Mary Easley's hiring or her promotion.

"Just because someone can't remember something and just because they make a mistake doesn't mean it was intentional," Jordan said.

E-mails released by the university Monday show that Campbell and Oblinger discussed Mary Easley's hiring in April 2005, but Oblinger said in a statement that he didn't recall the communications until he read the e-mails again last week.

The e-mails were among documents N.C. State turned over to a federal grand jury investigating the dealings former Gov. Mike Easley had with friends and contributors while in office.

Bowles said he first saw the e-mails last Friday and added that they "made me feel sick."

He said he had believed Oblinger's contention that he didn't remember any conversations about Mary Easley. "When I saw these e-mails and the extent of (his) involvement, it has made it more difficult for me to believe," Bowles said.

Jordan said the only mistakes he saw in the episode was a lack of judgment.

"The shame in this is that we lose the services of Jim Oblinger because we got tied up in this," he said, calling Oblinger "one of the greatest chancellors" N.C. State has ever had.