By Tony Farina
Erie Community College’s search for a new president to replace retiring Jack Quinn sometime this year is apparently moving forward but the search committee members have reportedly signed a confidentiality agreement to keep the process behind closed doors and out of public view.
We have learned that the members of the committee, believed to number 15 or so, signed the confidentiality pledge last Monday and that anyone who violates the agreement could be subject to strict disciplinary penalties.
ECC Board Chairman Dennis Murphy was not available to comment on confidentiality pledge signed by search committee members although legal sources say the agreement is standard practice in part to protect the identities of possible candidates who might be under consideration but are currently working at other jobs. Now that’s especially interesting given that we reported in our continuing coverage of ECC over the last several years that Quinn himself secretly sought the job of president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership but withdrew his name after it became clear he was going to lose out to Dottie Gallagher-Cohen and resigned with ECC while hardly anyone at the college knew he was trying to leave.
The current search committee sworn to secrecy includes several current board members and college and community stakeholders including County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
While the secrecy pledge may be standard operating procedure, given the heightened awareness of what has gone on at the college over the last several years under Quinn, it seems ill-advised for the search committee to operate out of public view. That lack of transparency at ECC was among the findings of the state audit released last year of the second largest college in Western New York, the first such review in 20 years.
In the scathing audit, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said “our auditors found a lax control environment in which significant decisions were made out of the view of the board, the public and students,” a finding that concurred with what insiders at the college were telling this reporter for months before the audit was released and which we reported.
Quinn, a former congressman, has served as president of ECC since 2008 and currently earns $192,500 in the post. He announced last summer that he was retiring for personal reasons at the end of the current term June 1, but as of this writing there is no sign that the committee has received any recommendations from Wheless Partners, the search consultant hired earlier this year from among seven finalists. Murphy said in January that Quinn has indicated his willingness to stay on month-to-month until his successor is chosen if that becomes necessary
Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick, chairman of the legislature’s Enrichment Committee, says the only contact his committee has had with the search consultant was last February when two members met with lawmakers seeking information about the task ahead.
Hardwick said the selection of a new president to head ECC is critically important to the college’s future given the current fiscal crisis the school faces and the new free-tuition program in the state that some community college officials fear will reduce the need for community colleges whose demand, they claim, stems from the relative affordability compared to four-year institutions.
“It is my hope that they can find an ambitious person who is already working and has some valuable experience who might be looking to come in here for a few years and make a name for themselves by getting things straightened out there [ECC],” said Hardwick. “But I haven’t heard anything about what’s going on.”
Asked if he might be interested in the job, given his academic credentials, Hardwick, a Canisius College political science professor with a Ph. D, said he is flattered by the question but is happy where he is.
If and when anything leaks out from the veil of secrecy now surrounding the search process, we’ll let you know.