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EXAMINING THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE

A proposed study of Erie Community College's future has raised concerns in the County Legislature that can only leave an observer scratching his head in bewilderment: Why would anyone have anything against a detailed examination of how best to use the college and its facilities?

Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick says he fears that the study, if not an actual subterfuge aimed at dumping the college's valuable North Campus, will at least make that possibility more likely. It's a subject he says he does not want to entertain.

But while County Executive Joel A. Giambra properly said "nothing is off the table" in the comprehensive study he wants to undertake, he also says no one is approaching the project with any thoughts of closing any campus. It is also possible, he said, that the study could recommend adding to the college.

Likewise, ECC President William Mariani, who is pushing for the study, says he is not interested in closing any campus. Even more to the point, the chairwoman of the college board, which would have to approve any such action, says she and the board also oppose it.

This is an important and worthwhile endeavor. The whole point of Giambra's 1999 campaign for county executive was that Erie County had become mired in policies and routines that are not necessarily the best or most efficient ways of serving the public interest. Surely an examination of how the college should position itself for the future is a necessary part of any effort to rethink how Erie County does business.

If the study finds the college could rent or even sell an underused building to the benefit of itself and the county, why not consider that? Even if it recommended closing a campus, surely we are not so set in our ways that the subject could not be debated. Blind adherence to the way things are has not prevented us from stumbling into an economic sinkhole.

Legislators ultimately determined they had no role in authorizing the study, but the manner in which they sent it back to the college left little doubt about their distaste for the study. That's unfortunate.

With Giambra's election, the county has an opportunity to consider anything and everything about what it does and how it goes about doing it. It has begun that process in a variety of ways and in a number of areas, from Erie County Medical Center to the county library system to all of the component parts probed by the fancifully named Who Does What? Commission.

The conclusions of any study on the college would properly be subject to public scrutiny and political debate. Legislators and others would have legitimate roles to play in defending or opposing various recommendations. But first, we need the information.

Even if their imprimatur was not needed, legislators should have supported this study. Resistance looks like unwillingness even to consider change, and if the past 20 or so years have proved anything in Erie County, it's that we need to change.

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