Mary Easley faces criticism over raise at N.C. State

First lady Mary Easley got a $79,700 pay raise Tuesday from N.C. State University.

Her salary as an executive-in-residence and senior lecturer — a job created for her in 2005 — went from $90,000 to $170,000. Her job title has not changed, but university officials say they have greatly expanded the duties for Easley, a former prosecutor and lawyer who has taught law courses.

The pay increase would also dramatically raise her state retirement benefits, which are based on an average of an employee's four highest-earning years.

Mary Easley, wife of Gov. Mike Easley, has been a hot topic among state residents because news reports revealed she was in the state's delegation on two trips to Europe that cost taxpayers more than $109,000.

The average salary for a full professor at N.C. State is $110,000, said Jim Martin, a chemistry professor at NCSU and the elected faculty chairman. As a full professor of chemistry, he is paid $101,000.

“When I see an adjunct faculty being paid, you know, half again, if not close to double the salary of a faculty member, you can't help but say, ‘Why?' What is that telling all the rest of us who have made this commitment to public service?” Martin said.

Easley's raise comes at a time when lawmakers are still trying to hammer out a state budget – and a contentious point has been raises for state employees and teachers.

Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said the raise is way out of line for what other state employees might normally expect. Easley has pushed for big raises for teachers, but smaller pay increases for other state employees.

“It looks like there is obviously preferential treatment going on,” said Cope, whose organization represents 55,000 state employees and retirees. “That seems to be ridiculous. When state employees get additional job duties, very often times they will get at best a 5 percent pay increase of what they were making.”

Mary Easley did not respond to an interview request. She and the governor told WRAL-TV on Wednesday that they did not understand the uproar over her salary, first reported Wednesday by the Carolina Journal.

“It's not a raise. She's taking a new position,” Gov. Easley told WRAL. “She could go out with a law firm and make a lot more money, but she's decided to stay with public service.”

Mary Easley told WRAL: “What people have to understand is that I bring something unique to N.C. State.”

Gov. Easley, who is paid $135,854 a year, said he sensed sexism in his wife's critics.

“If she were a man, it wouldn't be an issue,” Easley told WRAL.

Martin, the faculty chairman, pointed out that many faculty members choose between their jobs as teachers and lucrative careers in the private sector.

“Yes, we have sexism problems,” Martin said, “but it's not paying the first lady $170,000.”

In a statement on Wednesday, the university's Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Larry Nielsen defended the 88 percent pay increase, which comes from his office's budget. He said Easley's job has a new five-year commitment.

“Mary Easley brings unmatched experience to our students at N.C. State, and we are fortunate to have her as a member of our faculty,” said Nielsen, who is paid $290,000 a year.

Mary Easley, 58, was hired by the university in 2005. She graduated from Wake Forest University and its law school. She was a prosecutor for 10 years and in private practice for eight. She has also taught law at N.C. Central University.

When hired by NCSU, her duties included teaching and running a university seminar series. Under her direction, the series has attracted speakers including former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, journalist Charlie Rose and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

In her new five-year job, Easley will direct a training program for public safety leaders, first responders and other security professionals.

Her new duties also will include co-directing the pre-law services program and building partnerships with the legal profession and area law schools, according to the university. (N.C. State does not have a law school).

“Mrs. Easley's experience in the legal profession and commitment to public service make her uniquely qualified to direct these efforts at N.C. State,” Nielsen said. “Her salary is within the range of similar management and law faculty and administrators at N.C. State and other universities.”