At freshman orientation each summer, Hilbert College President Cynthia A. Zane made a point of telling new students that she looked forward to the privilege of handing them their diplomas in four years. Zane delivered a similar message again this past August, but with a subtle change. She left herself out of the equation, instead telling students that Hilbert College would have the privilege of giving them their diplomas in 2021.
Zane won't be around the campus to see the current crop of freshmen complete their degrees. On Thursday, she announced at the college's Board of Trustees meeting that she will retire at the end of the current academic year, June 30, 2018.
Zane, 68, has been president of the Hamburg college of about 1,100 students since 2006. She quickly became a leader in efforts among area higher education administrators to work more cooperatively on issues facing all colleges and universities.
At Hilbert, she oversaw an expansion of the college's academic offerings, including cybersecurity and sports industry management; the construction of a 155-bed residence hall; the completion of a successful re-accreditation process with the Middle States Commission for Higher Education; and the establishment of the college's first-ever graduate degree programs.
Zane also helped spearhead with Sister Margaret Carney, the former St. Bonaventure University president, the exploration of a possible merger between Hilbert and St. Bonaventure. The two Catholic institutions studied merger and other collaborative possibilities for 18 months.
The two institutions agreed in 2015 to continue as two distinct and separate entities, but Zane said colleges around the country, not just in Western New York, will need to partner more closely with each other if they plan to survive the paradigm shift higher education currently is in.
"I think collaborative partnerships, even though Sister Margaret and I were not successful in navigating that outcome for our two institutions during our time of leadership, it has not diminished my belief that ultimately it is going to be an important strategy for institutions around this country to consider," she said.
Zane called it a good time to step aside, with a strong leadership team at the college in place and the largest freshman class in four years.
She also has personal reasons. Her husband, Stephen Mazurek, recently retired as a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, and after years of commuting to see each other, "it's time to work on learning to live together full time," she said.
The couple has five children and 10 grandchildren, soon to be 11.
"Our goal is to travel a lot and to spend more quality time with each other, as well as with our grandchildren," Zane said.
The Hilbert board plans to conduct a national search for Zane's successor and expects to have a candidate named sometime in early 2018, said Edward Gelia Jr., immediate past chairman of the board.
"We already have an RFP (request for proposals) drawn up for search firms," he said.
The board will focus on the search at a scheduled retreat in October.
Gelia praised Zane's stewardship of the college and energetic involvement in the Western New York community.
"She's leaving the college in a very good situation," he said.