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NC State won't oust Oblinger

June 25, 2009 4:04:54 PM PDT
Amid a federal probe and newly revealed missing emails, there's a growing controversy about why ousted chancellor James Oblinger is still cashing his chancellor-sized paycheck at NC State - and why he has a guaranteed job.Oblinger resigned the chancellorship earlier this month after e-mails surfaced that showed he played a larger role than previously thought in the hiring of former North Carolina first lady Mary Easley. But, he's kept his tenured professor position and his salary has not decreased.

Oblinger testified before a grand jury about Easley's hiring. She got a job running a lecture series at the university in 2005. That role was enlarged last year and she got an 88 percent raise that took her annual salary to $170,000 a year.

Records show Easley's husband - former Governor Mike Easley - had a role in getting her the job while he was still in office, and there have been rumblings that the position was created for her as some kind of quid pro quo.

Oblinger has maintained that Easley's hiring was above board and he did nothing wrong. He first said he didn't recollect conversations about her hiring when asked about it last month. He has since changed his story - saying documents and e-mails handed over federal investigators 'refreshed' his memory.

A large chunk of Oblinger's e-mails from the time of Easley's hiring are also missing. NC State says they were deleted and is trying to recover them.

Oblinger's attorney says his client didn't take part in any kind of cover-up, and if the mail is missing, it was deleted routinely as Oblinger maintained his e-mail account.

Through it all, Oblinger continues to get paid a chancellor salary and will return to teach at the university. The reason? Because he's a tenured member of the faculty.

"He earned that tenure as his expertise as a teacher and researcher - moved into administration - the university needs to invest in him to the extent that he can go back and be a member of the faculty again," said interim Chancellor Jim Woodward explained.

The case highlights the difference between academia and the corporate world when it comes to job security. At a corporation, an employee can often be shown the door at any time, but at a university, tenured professors have protections that protect their employment.

"You have to show pretty significant cause to let a tenured faculty member go," explained Associate VP of Academic Affairs at Meredith College Cindy Edwards.

Edwards says a tenured faculty member is usually only fired for financial reasons.

But, according to NC State's policies regarding academic tenure, violations of professional ethics are also a just cause for firing.

"It would have to be really significant personal misconduct and the burden of proof is typically on the institution," said Edwards.

Whether that argument can be made about Oblinger may be a moot point with Woodward in charge.

"Do you think that it's going to be a good idea for the university to continue to have Dr. Oblinger here as a teacher?" asked Eyewitness News in an interview Wednesday.

"I understand the criticisms - especially in this particular environment," Woodward responded. "I think though, ultimately, a university must abide by its contractual agreements with faculty and staff."


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