Aug. 30, 1940 – Jan. 14, 2017
William D. Rezak, who in the 1990s pushed for Alfred State College to transition from being primarily a two-year school to one that also granted four-year bachelor’s degrees, died Jan. 14 at his home in Tavares, Fla., after battling cancer. He was 76.
Mr. Rezak was president of Alfred State from 1993 to 2003, when the college expanded from its roots as a two-year agricultural and technical school. Under Mr. Rezak, the college began offering more bachelor’s degree programs and growing enrollment, while navigating funding cuts that caused financial turmoil on many State University of New York campuses.
Mr. Rezak also considered seriously the possibility of merging the college with Alfred University, a private institution. He and then Alfred University President Charles Edmondson said there was potential for creating a major regional university out of the two entities. The merger idea never came to fruition, but Mr. Rezak’s transitional leadership ultimately helped the college thrive, said Jim Grillo, who teaches business at Alfred State. The college still offers associates’ degrees but Mr. Rezak helped implement a two-plus-two program that made it easy for two-year degree recipients to continue at the college and earn a bachelor’s degree in four years, Grillo said.
“It was a ladder approach, and parents loved it because a lot of the students we were getting were first generation, first-time college students,” said Grillo, a vice president under Mr. Rezak.
Grillo described his former boss as consultative and forward thinking. “If we came up with some good rationale about why he was wrong, he would listen and change his mind,” said Grillo. “He was an outstanding mentor to many of the faculty and administration on campus.”
Mr. Rezak also had a few run-ins with faculty and staff. The college gained national attention in 1994 for adding a football program and hiring former Buffalo Bills head coach Lou Saban to coach the new team. But Saban ended up quitting 10 months after taking the job. Mr. Rezak was later named in a federal lawsuit that claimed he had tried to bribe the former athletics director, Stephen Babcock, into supporting his plan to cut jobs at the college. The case, which included trial testimony by Saban, ended with a hung jury.
Mr. Rezak served as president of the Allegany County United Way Board of Directors and was chairman of the annual campaign. In 1994, he established the Radia Khouri Rezak Family Endowed Scholarship to benefit Alfred State students. He retired from Alfred State in 2003.
The son of a Palestinian father and a British mother, Mr. Rezak was born in Rochester and raised in Syracuse. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Lehigh University, where he played on the 1961 Lambert Cup Championship football team. He received a master’s degree from Stevens Institute of Technology and a doctoral degree in human resource development from Georgia State University.
He worked for 18 years in engineering, design and construction of nuclear and fossil fuel power generation facilities, before entering higher education. Prior to Alfred State, Mr. Rezak was dean of the School of Technology at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga. He returned to Georgia in retirement. His wife of 38 years, Paula, died in 2006.
Mr. Rezak wrote three books, including “The Arab and the Brit: The Last of the Welcome Immigrants,” an historical chronicle of his ancestors against the back drop of two world wars and the emergence of the modern Middle East. He returned to Alfred State in 2013 to discuss the book, which he followed with a memoir, “The Best Dang Job in the World: A Leadership Guide for College and University Administrators,” based largely on experiences and observations from his time in Alfred.
In 2007, he journeyed 5,200 miles across the country on a motorcycle by himself.
Survivors include a son, David; a daughter, Sarah; a brother, David; and a granddaughter.
A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at A Community Funeral Home and Sunset Cremations, 910 West Michigan St., Orlando, Fla.