The State University of New York will leave it up to the local boards that govern Erie Community College and Niagara County Community College to study a possible merger, SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall said.
McCall responded to a request last week from Joel A. Giambra, former Erie County executive, for SUNY to intervene and push the two colleges to consider consolidating their campuses.
McCall said SUNY is committed to shared services and acknowledged that "the current landscape in Western New York may present an opportunity to do more."
But McCall, in a letter delivered by email on Wednesday to Giambra, also said Giambra's proposal to study the potential for consolidated services between the two colleges must be considered first at the local level.
"Should the boards of trustees at both colleges decide to explore the opportunity further," McCall wrote, "SUNY will look into it as well."
Giambra wrote McCall asking SUNY trustees "to exercise their fiduciary responsibilities to safeguard the welfare of our community colleges" by initiating a study of consolidating ECC and NCCC operations.
Giambra for years has contended the region can no longer support three community college campuses in Erie County and a fourth campus in Niagara County. Declining enrollments, tuition increases and strained finances at both colleges should make the need for consolidation obvious, he said.
The presidential turnover at both ECC and NCCC presents a rare opportunity for both institutions to get together and seriously consider a merger, he said. Longtime NCCC President James Klyczek abruptly resigned in April, and ECC President Jack Quinn Jr. is scheduled to retire at the end of this month.
The ECC board selected a candidate to succeed Quinn as 11th president on Wednesday. The candidate's name has not been released, and the hiring is not official until it is approved by the SUNY trustees, who meet later this month.
In an interview, Giambra called McCall's response "disappointing, but not unexpected."
Giambra said there was still time for SUNY or someone else in state government to "see the benefit of slowing the process down and looking at the bigger picture."
Still, even if the appointment of a new ECC president goes through later this month, it doesn't ruin the opportunity to study merger, he added.
"It just makes it a little more complicated," Giambra said.