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Mariani's successor at ECC will face lingering challenges

The new year closes a chapter at Erie Community College, where the search begins for a president to succeed William J. Mariani.

Mariani, who stepped down at the end of December, heads back to the classroom as a business professor, while some of the challenges he grappled with as president for nine years await his successor.

More money needs to be invested in the three campuses of ECC, which, like other two-year institutions, are seeing more students to turn to community colleges as an option to the rising cost of higher education, Mariani said.

And like Mariani, the next president will have to find a way to maneuver through the layers of governance surrounding the college.

"It creates a lot of frustration," Mariani said.

Not only does the ECC president have to answer to a board of trustees and the State University of New York, but also has to deal with the county executive and County Legislature, which contributes 18 percent of the college's budget.

In fact, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education four years ago threatened the community college's accreditation because of interference by the county, and Mariani clashed more than once with County Executive Joel A. Giambra over the county executive's proposal to consolidate the three campuses.

While Mariani publicly downplayed any frustrations when he announced his resignation in October, he conceded he was burned out.

Mariani started as a professor in the business department in 1983, then served as executive dean of work force development and community services, developing programs to train and retrain Western New York's labor pool.

So, when he was appointed interim president in 1997 and made permanent in 1999, increasing employment opportunities for ECC students became a theme throughout his tenure.

The two-year institution entered into more than two dozen partnerships in recent years with companies such as Ford, General Motors and Kaleida Health to help increase internship and job opportunities for students, while offering training for local employers.

"If there's a legacy for Bill at ECC, it's the partnerships he has built with major corporate entities and small businesses, as well," said Dr. James G. Corasanti, the former chairman of the ECC board.

Enrollment during Mariani's tenure went up from more than 8,000 students to 13,000.

"We feel over the course of his nine years, he did a great job of enhancing the institution and its status in the community," said Andrew Sako, president of the Faculty Federation at ECC.

William D. Reuter, the college's chief administrative and financial officer, has been named interim president during the search for Mariani's successor.

Mariani, meanwhile, will be back teaching in the business department at ECC next semester. He will earn $69,554 a year, according school records, compared with the $185,000 he made as president.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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