Local News

N.C. State tries to move forward after Easley controversy

Posted June 9, 2009 6:11 p.m. EDT
Updated June 9, 2009 8:39 p.m. EDT

— Interim North Carolina State University Chancellor Jim Woodward says admitting that mistakes were made in the hiring of former first lady Mary Easley is part of repairing the university’s reputation.

“We made some mistakes that obviously damaged this institution,” Woodward said. “The mistakes we made were not recognizing early enough the political, the potential damage.”

The North Carolina State Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Monday to terminate Easley’s contract.

Easley had resisted calls in recent weeks to step down from her $170,000-a-year job at N.C. State, despite a growing controversy.

Last year, Easley 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.

Provost Larry Nielsen and McQueen Campbell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, resigned last month amid questions over their roles in 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.

Woodward, the former leader at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, says N.C. State must be more open and sensitive to public opinion.

“It's a terribly embarrassing thing for the university to go through,” Gary Pearce, Democratic political consultant, said Tuesday.

Pearce, an N.C. State graduate, believes it's the perception of cover-up that often gets people in trouble.

“If the chancellor had just been forthright about it…If he had just said, 'Here's what happened, here's the whole story,' there may have been some damage and some controversy, but it would not have gone on like this,” Pearce said.

The university’s woes are continuing over the salaries of two resigned administrators.

Despite Oblinger and Nielsen’s resignations, both men are set to keep their administrator salaries for months as they transition back to teaching. GOP lawmakers have proposed budget amendments to block what they call unfair golden parachutes.

With the damage done, Woodward said he will be sending Easley her termination letter and working to rebuild the university’s reputation.

“Let us earn any trust that we may have lost,” Woodward said.