Local News

N.C. State letter cites economy for Mary Easley's firing

Posted June 11, 2009 10:26 a.m. EDT
Updated June 11, 2009 7:40 p.m. EDT

— The economic downturn and a decision by North Carolina State University to cut programs overseen by the state's former first lady were reasons for her termination earlier this week.

That's according to a June 10 letter to Mary Easley that was posted Thursday morning on the university's Web site.

The university's Board of Trustees terminated Easley's five-year contract Monday, ending her $170,000-a-year job as an executive-in-residence and senior lecturer.

Questions surrounding her hiring in 2005 and an 88 percent pay raise last year have caused a shake-up at the school, leading to several top university administrators, including the chancellor, resigning from their posts.

Interim Chancellor James Woodward made no mention of the controversy in his letter, only that the programs she was hired to administer would be "eliminated or severely reduced."

"I regret the necessity of this action," he wrote.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Woodward, who replaces James Oblinger as chancellor, said the controversy wasn't mentioned because "it simply was not necessary to go into that at all."

The issue is a legal matter, and some attorneys have said it is easier to terminate a personnel contract on the grounds of budgetary restraints as opposed to cause.

Easley will not be receiving a severance package, unlike Oblinger and former Provost Larry Nielsen, who each stand to receive sizeable transition packages as they move back into faculty positions.

In light of the concerns, university leaders had called on Easley to resign, but she resisted, saying, through her attorney that she had a valid contract with the university.

Easley on Wednesday issued to the university that likewise didn’t mention the controversy. In the letter, she said working at N.C. State was a privilege, and she urged the university to focus on the welfare of students.

Federal investigators have subpoenaed information about her job, as well as information about trips the family made while her husband, former Gov. Mike Easley, was in office.

Documents turned over to a federal grand jury on Monday include e-mails showing the former governor discussing a job at N.C. State for his wife.

Oblinger, Nielsen and McQueen Campbell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, have resigned in recent weeks amid questions over their roles in her hiring. Campbell was the trustee who communicated with Mike Easley four years ago in the e-mails.

All three have denied any wrongdoing.

Woodward said he is still considering pay-package details for both Oblinger and Nielsen.

Some have questioned that with ethical questions and a tough budget year whether the two should receive the compensation they are expected.

"When you've been lied to, you have an immediate reaction," said N.C. State faculty chairman Jim Martin. "The six months of the chancellor's salary is the magnitude of the cut my department is being asked to take. That stinks."