Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A New Day at NC State With Old Problems

Yesterday (same start as yesterday’s posting), I received a telephone call from a long-time (we knew each other in college) friend who shall remain anonymous (I know her but maybe it's best you do not know who she is.). It was not surprising to hear from her; it’s just that I thought her phone call would have come several weeks ago. As it turns out, she, a determined and avid supporter of NC State University, said she was waiting for the right moment.

We talked a little about old times for a brief moment, though discussion of our families resumed after the meat of the conversation which was about NC State University. We both have a passion for our alma mater but she prefers a quieter approach while I felt a few months ago that open discussion would bring more attention and results. From what I’ve seen, the former—attention—happened, but the latter—results—are still to be seen.

Somewhere in the conversation, she asked: “What are you trying to accomplish with your blog?”

I thought for only a moment and reached back to December 19, 2009, the day after the movie “Julie and Julia” played on my 42” LCD Vizio. The movie was based on the real life circumstances and results of a young lady, Julie, a wannabe writer who could not get her novel published. So, in a funk, she decided to cook her way out of it, preparing every recipe in Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And Julie wrote about it in a blog. The result was a year of fabulous and interesting cooking and the publishing of her story about her year of cooking and writing.

The next day, I decided to try to write something every day. With plenty of ideas, I started, seven days a week, taking time away from many more important projects to write, a love of mine along with golf and visiting wineries. I figured the golf and wineries would be a major part of this effort. But, I had other concerns, a major one being how my friend Lennie Barton was treated by temporary NC State University Chancellor James Woodward. Barton had been fired after a very brief review of his work. A public records request for emails between those two and emails from and to Vice Chancellor for Advancement Nevin Kessler resulted in some startling—to me—information. My conclusions have been well-chronicled in this space (primarily at

“I write every day,” I responded to her question. “That’s what I'm accomplishing. I do not have an agenda other than to write and create. The subjects do not necessarily come together. I just write. It’s one thing I enjoy, and this blog is my outlet.”

As it turns out, my friend was calling to ask that I shift my attention from what she calls “negative” writing about NC State University to a more positive approach. I listened and responded off and on during our near 60-minute conversation as we discussed lots of issues related to this subject and to NC State in general. Our differences are this: Lots of stuff with which I disagree goes on behind closed doors at NC State, and I feel public discussion is better than expressing private concerns; she feels quiet conversation will lead to resolution and that many concerns I have—such as Kessler’s desire to tax College-based Foundations—will not happened because those Foundations will not let it happen.

While I respect her opinion, always have and always will, we agree to disagree on these approaches. What got us to this point are mischievous actions by a member of the NC State University Board of Trustees, undue influence from the office of former Governor Mike Easley, and lies told by Chancellor James Oblinger and Provost Larry Neilsen. If that stuff had been kept hush-hush, the three directly connected to NC State may still be in their positions. Of course, Barton may still be in his position there. However, public knowledge of underhanded dealings forced changes, some of them good, especially the resignations of the Trustee, Oblinger and Neilsen.

But, for me and many others, the replacement, though temporary, at Chancellor—Woodward—was detrimental in many ways, especially with rank and file NC State alumni. Woodward as it turns out was no better than Oblinger when it came to telling the truth, as he lied to the media and to many supporters of the campus and ran roughshod over many others. I have copies of specific emails Woodward sent to alumni during his final days in office, and I have requested others. His rudeness does him no favors, and he is a terrible reflection on NC State University. When you see them for yourself in a later posting, I’m sure you’ll agree.

My friend was quick to tell me yesterday that this is all old news and that we need to focus on building NC State University and not on tearing it apart. She's got a good point. Yes, I agree when she says we are at the dawn of a new day with Chancellor Randy Woodson, but for me there remains much unfinished business, and I will continue to discuss the issues of importance to me in this space. I have a great deal of respect for Chancellor Woodson based on our first email exchange and our initial meeting. He will be terrific for NC State, at least from what I see initially.

As far as tearing apart the University with my writing, she—my friend—also told me I have many readers in high places when it comes to NC State and that many are very upset with me. I’m sure I know who they are, and if they are in full support of what Woodward did and how Kessler is trying to gain control of all donations to NC State, maybe those in high places need to reconsider their association with NC State. In my humble opinion, it’s just not best for the University. And, I'll continue to say so.

I also explained to my friend that I’ve heard from many rank-and-file at NC State, not just alumni but many who work in noted positions on campus, all very positive about my writing. Those are the important people at NC State. Leaders come and go, but it’s down the line where things positive things happen. These are the opinions I respect, not administrators such as Kessler who cares more for his own well-being and doesn't have the passion for NC State necessary to handle his job. If he did, his results would be a lot better than what shows. I believe one of the first things Woodson needs to do is to review Kessler and then fire him.

I welcome Chancellor Woodson, but unfortunately, the legacy of his immediate predecessor is not one of which the University should be proud. Thank goodness he has returned to a rocking chair at his home in or near Charlotte. Hopefully, next time his biggest admirer Erskine Bowles calls with an assignment, he’ll stay put, but there’s still more to tell in this space about his terrible term in Raleigh.

I appreciate my friend calling. It was and always is good to hear from her. I'm sure I'll hear from her again.We have interesting conversations. Stay tuned.


  1. As an alum, I strongly feel the desire to do what's best for NCSU. I also am not a believer in the sit-down-and-shut-up approach when it comes to public institutions that function on the wallets of the taxpayers and alumni. While I do believe battles need to be carefully chosen, administrators are accountable to their constituents. Like other aspects of our democracy (or more accurately, our representative republic) vocal participation and oversight are required. George Orwell was right.

  2. Jim,
    I think your reflection was prudent, but I believe you are correct in calling it like you see it. Sometimes a boil needs to be lanced.
    NCSU will be the better for it.

  3. Jim, You always told people the truth whether they wanted to hear you or not.
    I am now an avid supporter and reader of your blog.
    Now if you can only help lead the charge in getting rid of Lee Fowler, the most despised man at NCSU.


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