statusquOblinger finds part of his memory on Monday

Alternative title: NC State’s 63 year old Chancellor publicly admits to losing his edge and forgetting important information

Cartoon from Charlotte Observer

NC State University Chancellor, Jim statusquOblinger asked Mary Easley to resign her University post on Monday after (deservedly) coming under significant criticism for the University’s handling of Easley’s hiring and pay.  The former North Carolina first lady is the second University employee that Oblinger has targeted after he sent the Provost packing in a feeble attempt to absolve himself of ownership of key decisions on his campus.

At this point it is a fair question to ask – if Mary Easley should resign, then why on earth shouldn’t Jim Oblinger? Easley has done NOTHING that wasn’t asked of her by Oblinger and the administration he leads. She was hired under Oblinger; she got her raise under Oblinger; and she has been doing whatever Oblinger’s administration has asked. If she should resign because it is ‘best for NC State’, then please explain why her boss who is responsible for the entire situation not also be expected to resign?

Link to WRAL’s story

Link to N&O’s story

Oblinger’s status quo style, general lack of leadership and avoidance of anything remotely resembling conflict is now serving to haunt the former food chemist.  (You know how NC State aims high for leadership!  From food chemist to Chancellor of a Research One University.  Gotta love reaching for the stars in West Raleigh!!!).  During this past weekend, the N&O’s “Under the Dome” blog took Oblinger to task in this entry that is very embarrassing to the Chancellor and the entire University.

N.C. State Chancellor James Oblinger says he is "embarrassed" that he has no recollection of a conversation with trustee McQueen Campbell prior to the hiring of first lady Mary Easley in 2005.

For good reason.

Some might recall that an often-noted trait of N.C. State’s 13th chancellor has been his steel-trap memory, Andy Curliss reports.

It was highlighted in a lengthy profile of Oblinger in The News & Observer at the time he took the chancellorship in early 2005, noting that he devoured details and that his ability to remember names and faces was "uncanny."

The profile said that he was the kid who memorized which recording belonged to what record label. He was the dad who remembered the odometer reading on his car, much to his sons’ dismay because they couldn’t drive off and return without his knowing it.

"He will know whether there were crumbs left on the kitchen counter when he walks out in the morning," his wife said at the time. "If there are different crumbs in that spot when he returns, he notices that, too."

Faculty members have also recalled that Oblinger could pick up a conversation weeks or even months after it started, as if there was no gap in time.

But on Thursday, in addressing questions about Campbell and the first lady’s hiring, Oblinger said his memory is now faulty.

"You’ve got to realize that I’m getting older," said Oblinger, who is 63. "This was years ago. I find that I’m forgetting things."

If you are just now coming to the realization that you need to be paying attention to this story, then this little article from the N&O will quickly catch you up on the recent timeline of events while appropriately criticizing NC State’s (lack of) response to the issue. 

Oblinger has now reached a point where he is completely boxed-in with anything that he says; every time he opens his mouth he is in a ‘no win’ situation.

  • This weekend, it was a 63 year old man admitting that he has lost his edge and is ‘getting older’ and that he finds “(he is) forgetting things.”
  • Last week, he was either (a) incompetently disengaged from very important decisions on his campus or (b) obviously hiding things. A couple of our community members said it quite succinctly last week:

If he claims that he didn’t know about the quid pro quo that has apparently taken place, then sheer ignorance of a very high profile hire would be grounds for removal. If he claims that he did, in fact know, then he was, at the very least, complicit and also ground for removal.

I think Oblinger is flat out lying, or he is extremely stupid. A man in his position I would hope couldn’t be that dumb, but you never know.

This is what happens to people who do not any true convictions and passively ‘manage’ by avoidance and without driving to reach stretch goals.  If the Chancellor and the folks at NC State were actually executing against a well-defined strategy, then all behaviors under that strategy can/could be explained and justified as supporting that strategy.  But, when the bulk of your daily behaviors are construed by everyone around you as ‘risk avoidance’ and wanting to ‘do as little as possible to upset the status quo’, then you cannot truly strive for excellence or have any guiding barometer for decisions.

For example, why not actually defend the Mary Easley hire a little?  Regardless of any potential quid pro quo between McQueen Campbell and the Easley family, hiring Mary Easley is actually a very good thing for NC State.  Had Oblinger taken a stand and supported/promoted the importance of Mary Easley’s role in leading the Millennium Speaker Series he would at least have a position staked as opposed to appearing lost like a deer in the headlights.  But, Oblinger didn’t have enough control of these issues from the start after NC State promoted Larry Neilsen from his campus position to Provost in an unconventional move that ultimately ignored a formal external search process that had identified four candidates for the position.

You see – it is all about being comfortable with the status quo all around you in Raleigh.  Why would NC State dare bring in someone from the outside when the Chancellor can live in luxury along side his local buddy?  Of course, you can’t really blame Chancellor Oblinger; it is the ‘NC State way’ to ultimately promote a food chemist from campus into the steward and leader of the entire University after the ‘good old boys’ and the tenured faculty had been pushed by someone who actually had drive and ambition to leave the zip code every now and then (Marye Ann Fox).

Unfortunately, the folks in West Raleigh just are not built to chart courses with clearly stated goals and outcomes.  This is why Lee Fowler can continue to keep his job despite the laughter of so many involved in college athletics today.  In the words of another of our insightful posters:

What you see in how poorly all these items have been handled is classic NC State. Head down, plowing forward (any direction really) with little or no concern as to how it might look and no consideration in the prior as to how things might shake out. Thus, NC State just does it and the chips fall where they might. As I was told long ago, State does not practice risk management, they practice risk avoidance. They have no idea that things will go wrong and when they do go wrong, as things will when people are involved, they over react or in this case they look terribly corrupt and inept.

Link to extended interview with Mary Easley from WRAL-TV

Link to new NC State fight song.

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38 Responses to statusquOblinger finds part of his memory on Monday

  1. old13 05/18/2009 at 2:04 PM #

    It’s a sad day for NCSU with Jed in the AD position and Jethro “running” the university (into the ground!) . . . or is that Granny (give me that rhumatiz medicine) in charge . . . I forget; my memory is failing!

    There’s an old addage that says “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way!” Somebody in authority at NCSU needs to get some of that! (And I’m not aware of anyone there now who is capable of that!)

  2. Dr. BadgerPack 05/18/2009 at 2:06 PM #

    Just because I find this funny as hell…

    In his installation response, Oblinger emphasized “three overriding values that ensure we will never be satisfied with the status quo, but will always be stretch-ing for that next great achievement.” Oblinger challenged himself and those in attendance to recommit to those three values – people, innovation and action.

    SFN: Thank you for sharing that. The disconnection in West Raleigh between what people say and what they do is FASCINATING to me. And it is getting worse and more extreme. You can just say anything you want and it is accepted as the truth; even if it flies directly in the face of common sense and obvious reality.

  3. tobaccordshow 05/18/2009 at 2:19 PM #

    Excellent post. No doubt this post achieved its excellence because of my insightful quote.

  4. Girlfriend in a Coma 05/18/2009 at 2:27 PM #

    I’d just like to point out that Clark W. Griswold of the “Vacation” movies is a food chemist.

  5. Dr. BadgerPack 05/18/2009 at 2:28 PM #

    Since I would kill my students for not doing so… I should cite my source for the above quote. It’s the lead article here:

  6. StateFans 05/18/2009 at 2:29 PM #

    Maybe it will get an award of excellence from the Chancellor?

    I mean, if ANYTHING were ever an indication of both incompetence and detachment from reality it was the Chancellor awarding the steward of the one of the worst Athletics Programs of all BCS schools an award for ‘excellence’.

  7. StewMan07 05/18/2009 at 2:39 PM #

    I just don’t see how this thing won’t bring Oblinger down. He is quickly showing he has Fowler’s knack for opening his mouth and looking stupid. I’m keeping my fingers crossed here, if this thing can bring him down, then any competent Chancellor will see to it that Fowler goes as well. If Mary Easley says no to stepping down this could get really ugly. It sure would be nice if all of this press were for outstanding leadership from the administration for great achievement. However I have seen none from the administration since MAF left.

  8. timswar 05/18/2009 at 3:12 PM #

    I hope that the BoG takes this as an opportunity to clean house at NCST. As this goes straight to the Chancellor’s office it’s likely that there are very few employees in NCST’s administration that haven’t had something to do with this mess.

    Take the opportunity, wipe out a good chunk of the administration, and then take the bold step of filling those spots with competent, forward thinking people who might even feel like the university can be improved without stomping out any non-academic extra-curricular activity (*gasp*).

    Okay, so that’s probably FAR too difficult to find, but I’d at least accept competent and forward-thinking as a start.

  9. bradleyb123 05/18/2009 at 3:16 PM #

    Who’s job is it to fire Oblinger? I mean, what would it take to bring him down? How would it happen?

  10. old13 05/18/2009 at 3:19 PM #

    ^ It’s stated here: in the second-from-last paragraph that the Chancellor reports to the UNC System BOG. I’ve no idea what the actual process would be.

  11. bradleyb123 05/18/2009 at 3:42 PM #

    Thanks, old13

  12. LKNpackfan 05/18/2009 at 4:12 PM #

    Not to mention, Jeff, he has deferred comment for 8 months now. This was originally reported, and he was originally questioned about it, by the Carolina Journal last September. There has been no new information or developments since then, only the N&O’s recent decision to re-print it. He’s had plenty of time to formulate an articulate response,
    not that “guh, I forgot. I’m gettin’ old ya know” isn’t articulate….

  13. GAWolf 05/18/2009 at 4:40 PM #

    Can anyone, without looking it up, name a necessary responsibility of a chancellor at a university that rests solely and completely in him/her?

  14. StateFans 05/18/2009 at 4:43 PM #

    I don’t understand that question.

  15. legacyman 05/18/2009 at 5:24 PM #

    Did anyone stop to realize that Dr. Fox was run off because she wanted to get the good ole boys off their butts and move some dirt? Perhaps those same ole boys(and girls)are now happy with someone who isn’t terribly proactive. After all, it is much easier to hang on when there are no expectations.

    SFN: I would say that A LOT of people realized – including a lot of the people here – realized that even at the time of her unfortunate departure.

  16. old13 05/18/2009 at 5:27 PM #

    ^ That’s a sure cure for a successful NCSU!

  17. packalum44 05/18/2009 at 5:31 PM #

    Alpha Wolf:

    I don’t necessarily support O, I just don’t have a strong disdain for him. I’m neutral. I agree that he isn’t a charismatic leader who is going to reform NC State administratively or change the “corporate culture”. However I’m not quite sure what criteria to grade his performance on…US News’s academic ranking?

    There are a plethora of issues to confront as Chancellor but I think I would set a 5-year goal of doubling our endowment (which is a pathetic $535 million). Its hard to compete with Jones’s when we can’t cough up the dough to attract and retain top tier professors.

  18. tcthdi-tgsf-twhwtnc 05/18/2009 at 5:47 PM #

    “Did anyone stop to realize that Dr. Fox was run off because she wanted to get the good ole boys off their butts and move some dirt?”

    Fox was looking to leave very early on after arriving at NC State. She started looking for other jobs after being at State for 12 months, it just took her 6 years or so to find another job that she wanted.

  19. tobaccordshow 05/18/2009 at 6:06 PM #

    I’m not going to bash MAF for leaving… look at what we have. Anything is better. But MAF was more than just “anything.” She is actually accomplished and distinguished within her field. She also served and advised a sitting US President.

    That being said, I’d like to see us go after an accomplished executive for our next Chancellor and our next AD. We need someone who knows how to navigate a business.

  20. john of sparta 05/18/2009 at 6:18 PM #

    since the Feds are now involved:
    Witness Protection Program?

  21. ldr of the pk 75 05/18/2009 at 7:01 PM #

    Academically, our University still has a reputation of being at the forefront of many disciplines, if you can get past the certain liberal bent that all universities shove down your throat throat these days. Get to the technical stuff and we are magnificent.

    But, the “show” has always been and will always be run by the “good ole boys”. That is the “good ole boys” with real money and influence. You can’t blame Ms Sleazeley for taking a gift. It becomes more apparent all the time that if you are giving much more than your tax dollars to our University, in light of our Sports program and overall University administrative bungling, you need a Financial makeover and perhaps counseling.

    What has your return on investment to the University been lately? How many games do you reckon you would have to miss if you quit giving? I had to quit giving a few years ago due to financial ruin. Wait a minute, I’ll finish when I’m out of my counseling session……………I’m back. Damn Shrinks. I still get to a fair amount of Football without any trouble, and there sure isn’t any problem getting in the RBC Center. It’s nice to have friends, but you can still buy your way into any game, good seats, no shakedown from the University for “seat rights or WPC priorities.

    The big boys will continue to pump their wads into the program, but until the little guys band together and protest by withdrawing, nothing will ever change up there. And, I suspect that the “little guy” includes a bunch giving what to most are hefty sums.

    We’ll forget all this in a few months, though, because we are getting hot in Football and that will be all we care about. Go TOB. Where oh where is my valium?

  22. legacyman 05/18/2009 at 9:02 PM #


    I would think that some saw what I mentioned but few offer to go after the sluggards who have held our University down for decades. Most are simply rattling about Lee Fowler or the Chancellor when they are but part of the problem.

    To reform the University would take a sweeping away of a group of entrenched eggheads who think a university is a place for only academic pursuits with little or no regard for a well-balanced institution which values academics as well as athletics.

    NC State has done pretty well in the past decade in spite of the old guard with the push toward the Centennial Campus and the amazing growth it has enjoyed. We are actually about to open an on-campus golf course which was envisioned even back when I was a student in the early 1960s.

    There are so many areas that would flourish for NC State if only we had the proactive leaders willing to take on tough challenges and to refuse to stay pat.

  23. blpack 05/18/2009 at 9:30 PM #

    ^ So true. Think of the caliber of leader required to be chancellor at our university. He has to understand our role as land grant school. Our cutting edge research, Centennial Campus growth, student life, importance to the city and state, athletics heritage as an ACC charter member and our successes along the way, just to name a few.
    We have so much to be proud of and should expect a great deal from our leader(s). Unfortunately we aren’t getting it now.

  24. Dogbreath 05/18/2009 at 9:42 PM #

    We need to see if Jim Barker from Clemson would be interested in coming up to Raleigh. He has done one hell of a job there, is a communicative leader and consensus builder, understands the unique mission of a land grant school, has dramatically improved their endowment, led them to a national ranking of #21 among National Public Universities (was in the low 40s when he got the job), and has a real competitive fire when it comes to athletics.

  25. howlie 05/19/2009 at 5:47 AM #

    “State does not practice risk management, they practice risk avoidance.”

    Management… how about some LEADERSHIP?
    How about VISION?
    How about INSPIRING people to become part of that dream which grabs you?

    Oh. It’s what has become of NC State.

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