One aspect of the ongoing scandal at my alma mater has been the revelation of an institutional culture of administrators openly enriching themselves at the expense of the citizens of North Carolina, who are — they should remember — forced to fund the university no matter what. That includes no matter how removed from responsible, adult behavior the leaders at the state’s largest research university get.
Maddeningly, even when these people are forced out, after a much delayed but still highly welcome spotlight into their shenanigans, they still manage to leech off everyone. Meanwhile, friends, trustees, and boosters talk blithely about them doing nothing illegal and being victimized by the media and even call them “heroes” (I kid you not — read Bob Kennel’s letter; it is hysterical in both sense of the word, which is to say it’s unwittingly hilarious and sounds like it’s coming from a woman with the vapors.)
For those of us on the hook for all these antics, not just mortified NC State alumni but all North Carolinians, the immediate question is: Good grief, when will it all end?
The News & Observer‘s June 9 article on the matter provides the following nuggets (emphasis added):
In 2005, [Larry] Nielsen, then the interim provost, hired Mary Easley. He gave her an 88 percent pay increase last year that took her annual salary to $170,000. The raise violated UNC-system policy, and later the system’s Board of Governors had to review it, and then voted to approve it.
Questions about Oblinger’s handling of Nielsen’s benefit package began last week. Initially, Oblinger said that he had given Nielsen a six-month study leave at his full provost pay, $298,700, which would then fall to $156,715 as Nielsen returned to teaching. … But on Saturday, university officials changed the story, saying that Nielsen would be paid at an elevated level for 18 months. Hours later, they changed the story yet again, saying that a higher salary actually would continue three years.
On Sunday, the university released documents that showed that Oblinger sweetened the deal on the day before Nielsen quit, in apparent violation of university rules.
Oblinger will return to teaching at the university. He will get a six-month leave at his current salary of $420,000. He’ll then begin teaching again, as a professor of food science at the normal salary for that discipline, Bowles said.
Let’s cut to the chase. It is flat-out immoral to get several hundred thousand dollars of taxpayer money to do nothing after you’ve been caught giving your pals hundreds of thousands of taxpayer money to do nothing (or next to nothing, in Mary Easley’s case).
Doing so amid a deep state recession puts these capers in high relief, which may be the only reason that firings and resignations are actually happening for once. The UNC system has long insulated itself from the kind of responsibility and work ethic prized in what staff and students wisely call “the real world.”
A problem throughout the UNC system
Make no mistake: the problem is not unique to NC State. Let me point you to this article from 2003:
The news last fall of sweetheart deals to exiting administrators of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill placed the institution under unsettling scrutiny of its priorities. Those deals amounted to $520,000 plus travel expenses to two former vice chancellors, Susan H. Ehringhaus and Susan T. Kitchen. They came to light after other UNC-CH officials had spent months making the university’s case against any more budget cuts affecting them, on the basis that the university had nowhere left to cut.
Carolina Journal has learned of another lucrative send-off to an exiting UNC-CH official. On May 9, 2002, UNC-CH and Associate Vice Chancellor Evelyn Hawthorne agreed to a termination arrangement in which Hawthorne was sent home but continued to receive her annual salary of $111,625 through July 31. Hawthorne was charged during that time with the task of drafting a strategy, complete with contact information, for how UNC-CH could deal with state legislators, university trustees, and the UNC Board of Governors. Furthermore during that time, Hawthorne could earn an additional $20,000 by devising a public-image campaign for the university. She was also permitted to take her remaining vacation time (261 hours — a little more than two weeks’ worth — as of May 9, but she continued to accrue vacation time through July 31). …
Hawthorne completed this duty by furnishing Kupec with a memorandum under the subject heading “Government Relations Strategy Materials.” The memorandum is dated “July 28, 2002”; however, there is a “Received” stamp on that sheet containing the date “JUL 30 2001.”
Wait till you see what the memorandum contained that cost the citizens of North Carolina at least $20,000 (perhaps the only time the victims of a “Be part of one of America’s Fastest Growing Industries! Earn thousand of dollars a month — from your home!” scam were people other than the home worker). My personal favorite is the note identifying a legislator as a “Retiring Dookie dentist.” That was, no doubt, worth a few grand just by itself.
For dismayed alumni and fans of NC State as well as citizens of North Carolina and people who want an ethical public university system they can be proud of, other obvious questions remain: Why this is happening, and why are those who disgraced the university and fleeced the taxpayers still allowed to continue doing so now that they’re no longer in office?
While there will probably not be definitive answers to those questions, SFN’s explanation Tuesday (emphasis added) has an unsettingling ring of truth to it — i.e., the distinct timbre of a nail being hit squarely on the head:
Let me tell you what is REALLY going on here — GREED and GAMING the system.
You see, retirement benefits of state government jobs are set differently than the benefits that those of us in the real world have. For example, an employee’s annual pension is set on a formula based on a certain number of years of that employee’s highest pay.
For example, when a state employee retires they get an annual payment of some percentage of their four highest years of compensation. It is NOT the last four years of service or some kind of average of the entirety of service. So, it is in the self interest of these cronies to be able to bring in as much compensation as they can for a certain amount of years at any point in their career. This is one of the reasons that the world of academia is one of the only industries where former leaders can/will remain employed in lesser roles with lesser compensation. They can ride off and build more ‘years of service’ for other various retirement benefits while sitting idly by with tenure and in a world of no demands.
So, when all of these folks — Oblinger, Nielsen, Easley – are angling for more and more money, even for short amounts of time, the impact of that compensation is not only felt by the taxpayers today but also translates into higher retirement benefits for every year of their life after retirement. Courtesy of the North Carolina taxpayer.
So even after the long-overdue housecleaning of June 8, the situation at NC State and the UNC system is still snafu. (For those who don’t know the acronym, look it up. It couldn’t be more apt.)