BY TONY FARINA
The search for a new Erie Community College president to replace Jack Quinn hasn’t really begun yet even though Quinn announced last summer that he was leaving for personal reasons, a decision that was welcomed by many insiders who give the career politician failing grades for his leadership of the second largest college in Western New York. Quinn has led ECC since 2008.
In fact, I was told this week that some staffers at the college are worried that because the search committee has not even been formed yet, Quinn would somehow stay on, possibly for up to a year, while the search for his replacement goes on.
But ECC Board Chairman Dennis Murphy says he believes the search for new president is going according to plan.
“We’re on schedule,” said Murphy when contacted by Artvoice this week. While he conceded that the search committee has not been formed, he did say the board is expected to vote Friday (Jan. 13) on the “search firm” to lead the process to find a new president.
Murphy said no local firms were among the seven finalists considered by stakeholders to lead the search process, and the list has been reduced to one with approval by the board expected at Friday’s meeting.
After the search firm has been hired, the next step will be to work with college stakeholders, including trustees, to form the committee and begin the search in earnest, according to Murphy.
Asked if everything could be accomplished in time to have a new president on board by June 1, Quinn’s announced retirement date, Murphy said he was confident it could be done but he did add that Quinn would be open to staying on if necessary.
“Jack appears open to staying on–on a month-to-month basis– if that’s what’s needed,” said Murphy. But he added that Quinn is anxious to step down and return to private life.
Murphy denied there has been any consideration of having an interim president if the search goes beyond June 1, saying Quinn would be the short-term answer if necessary.
Sources at the college, who fear reprisal from the administration if they speak on the record, say there have been reports that board trustees were divided on the selection of a possible interim president, if necessary, between longtime Quinn pal Michael Pietkiewicz, senior vice president, and Willian Reuter, the chief financial officer.
Pietkiewicz worked in Quinn’s congressional office in Washington and was hired in 2014 by Quinn for the newly created position of senior vice president for operations at a salary of $140,000, second only to Quinn’s $192,500 a year salary, at a time when college revenues were plummeting. Many at the college believe the academically under-qualified Pietkiewicz has been part of the leadership problem at ECC and a Quinn puppet.
Murphy says Quinn would likely stay on if the search goes beyond June 1, and that would be one way of solving the problem of a divided board.
Quinn’s controversial tenure was punctuated last January by a scathing state audit report that criticized the lack of oversight of college resources under Quinn that many say has contributed to ECC’s financial problems.
When Quinn took over as president, full-time equivalent enrollment at ECC was 12,170. Enrollment for the current year is about 10,500, and declining enrollment is a major factor in the school’s financial struggles. ECC has had to raise tuition and raid the reserve fund to stay afloat, and the new president will certainly face serious challenges trying to turn the school’s fortunes around in the wake of the Quinn years.
Quinn, a former congressman, landed the plush ECC job in 2008, one of the highest paying public jobs in the area (His salary is reportedly $192,000 per year and comes with a substantial travel and expense account budget).
While he is paid as the full-time president, he has always managed to find time to work at several outside positions that often take him away from the college for weeks at a time. He survived, despite the college’s decline, in part because of his supreme control of the board of trustees, which pretty much rubber-stamped his hires and pay raises to senior staff without so much as a whimper. It was all cited in the state audit.
The challenge now before the board of trustees is to hire the “search firm,” form the search committee, and get to work on finding a new president by June 1. Most observers expect the new president to come with full academic credentials and not be a political figure in the mold of Quinn, a silver-tongued and polished political figure who, despite some accomplishments (STEM technology building), was held in extremely low regard by many professionals who worked at the college.