State News

UNC Board of Governors approves pay raise for first lady

Posted September 12, 2008 6:44 a.m. EDT
Updated September 12, 2008 6:26 p.m. EDT

— The University of North Carolina Board of Governors on Friday approved a controversial 88 percent salary increase for first lady Mary Easley, who is a senior lecturer at North Carolina State University.

In early July, N.C. State raised Easley's salary from $90,300 to $170,000 as she moved from part-time to full-time status and took on additional duties.

But the pay increase never got proper approval from the Board of Governors. University system policy requires that proposed pay increases of more than 15 percent or $10,000 be approved by a Board of Governors committee and the full board.

The board's chairwoman, Hannah Gage, has said she believes N.C. State misinterpreted the university system's policy, and UNC President Erskine Bowles said Friday that the raise was a reflection of her new duties.

"This is a big, complex job," he said.

Easley's credentials in helping to attract national speakers, Bowles said, give credence to the new position and salary.

But the pay increase has raised the ire of others, who question why the governor's wife received such a large increase.

"In this case, an 88 percent raise when state employees were suggested by the governor to get 1.5 percent is just preposterous," said Ardis Watkins, legislative affairs director for the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

N.C. State Chancellor James Oblinger released a statement Friday afternoon, saying Easley's new responsibilities include teaching three courses a year, conceiving, originating and directing a new center for public safety leadership, coordinating the university's premier speaking series and coordinating law-related programming for a growing number of pre-law students.

For three years, she was an executive-in-residence and senior lecturer, managed the Millennium Speakers Program and taught graduate-level law classes.

Previously, Easley worked as a prosecutor and taught law at North Carolina Central University.

"Mary Easley's outstanding academic and professional background, as well as the relationships she has built among thought leaders across the state and nation, bring significant insights and experience to our campus," Oblinger said.

About $55,000 of the $170,000 salary will come from non-state funds, according to administrative documents that justify the raise. Easley agreed to have the documents released.

"I am grateful for the support of the members of N.C State University Board of Trustees, the UNC Board of Governors, the president of the UNC Board of Governors, the president of the UNC System and all of my colleagues at N.C. State," she said in a written statement Friday afternoon. "I look forward to doing great work at N.C. State in the years to come."