Woodward: NC State Has No Money for an Easley Settlement

July 2, 2009
By Cherry Crayton

Following an announcement that Mary Easley will appeal her dismissal from NC State, Chancellor Jim Woodward met with editors and reporters at The N&O Wednesday and told them that  he stood “behind his decision to eliminate Easley’s position” and that the university is “highly unlikely to negotiate a settlement with [the] former first lady” because “NCSU does not have the money for any settlement.”

Woodward added that

. . . Easley “had to know” that her husband, one of his top aides and a member of the university’s Board of Trustees played a role in the creation of her job.

“I think she was well aware of the efforts made on her behalf to get her a new job and a new contract,” Woodward said. “And those efforts were highly inappropriate.”

Woodward also addressed why former Chancellor James L. Oblinger and Provost Larry Nielsen, both who have resigned, will be able to return to faculty positions after a six-month study leave.

“Once you get tenure, it should be extremely hard to take away,” he said. He said their actions did not rise to that level.

While he knows that former Gov. [Mike] Easley helped orchestrate the creation of Mary Easley’s NCSU job in 2005, Woodward said he can’t find evidence of a quid pro quo.

“I can’t see where N.C. State got anything as a result of that,” he said. “What could the governor do that could bring some short-term benefit to N.C. State? I can’t identify anything.”

In an interview with us, Woodward further spoke on tenure:

I fully understand when people who read or hear about tenure, in some instances, say, “Gee, that’s not right.”

Tenure is an element of what I consider to be a foundation principle for higher education in the U.S. I’m someone who has worked in industry. I’m not naïve about what tenure means and the difference that you find in companies. But I believe that principle is one of the reasons we have the greatest higher education system in the world. It simply permits or encourages, principally, faculty at all levels to debate more senior faculty on topics, to debate administrators on any topic and not feel as if their jobs are threatened. There is not administrative freedom on a campus. There is academic freedom. . . . If you look at the derivation in this country of the so-called “tenure principles”—what does it mean to hold tenure, how is tenure rescinded—you’ll see that there is a national organization that has dealt with it for years—the American Association for University Professors (AAUP). [It] has endorsed or embraced both what tenure means [and] the justifiable reasons for terminating tenure. The UNC System has adopted those principles, as has every major university in this country. It basically says you can eliminate a tenured faculty person or terminate tenure for certain cause, and that cause is high-level. For example, if you stole money. If you had a grant contract and you stole money for personal gain. It’s a fairly high hurdle, as I think it should be, or otherwise it doesn’t mean anything within a university setting. And there is a very lengthy procedure you have to go through to rescind tenure. You have to demonstrate that that hurdle has been exceeded by the person who is losing tenure. If you didn’t go through a process or procedure and the institution is obligated to justify that action, then you can very well end up being censured by AAUP. If you go on their Web site, you’ll see that some smaller colleges around the country have been censured for various reasons. It is a horrible blow for a university to be censured for violating tenure principles. It impacts tremendously your ability to recruit faculty and administrators. If you’re a potential faculty member someplace, and you see NC State has been censured by AAUP for violating tenure principles, you’re going to think twice about being a candidate here.

My view is that if a university steps out and violates the conditions of tenure, you bring great risk to that institution’s ability to hire and keep good faculty, and to some extent, administrators. There is a real difference between tenure earned by a faculty member and tenure earned in the public school system. I think it could be explained as follows: Within a good university like NC State, a junior faculty member comes here, say, right out of graduate school, they have to accrue and present a record that justifies them being awarded tenure to this institution. They either have to be awarded tenure by the institution within 7 years or they’re out. It’s an up or out thing. Within the public school system, you find tenure but in general, what happens there is a teacher gets tenure if the school system has not accrued a record that justifies them being terminated. The hurdle for getting tenure at a good university is much higher. And the hurdle the institution has to meet in order to terminate or rescind tenure, is much higher, as well. What happened in my case, I was a tenured professor in engineering. I then moved into a dean’s job, into an academic vice president job, into a chancellor’s job. You never lose tenure if you do that. So, when I stepped down as chancellor, I went into a phased retirement program and taught for three years. Theoretically, I could have gone back as a faculty member, and I would have picked up the full responsibilities of a faculty member.

Tenure is difficult to get for a faculty member. Tenure is difficult to take away. I personally think it’s a very good thing. . . . [I]n companies I either worked in or served on boards of . . . , what you tend to do is keep somebody unless they’re bad enough to fire. A university doesn’t keep faculty unless that faculty member has accrued a record and presented a record that says I’m good enough to be given tenure—a permanent faculty position at this institution. This campus is very, very tough on the award of tenure. So it should be tough to take tenure away.

Read the rest of our “Seven Questions With Jim Woodward,”which we posted yesterday.

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