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No extension in place as ECC president enters final months of contract term

Erie Community College President Dan Hocoy and the college’s Board of Trustees have yet to work out a deal to extend a three-year contract that is set to expire in June.

Leonard Lenihan, chairman of the ECC board, said trustees “haven’t come to a conclusion at this point about if Dan’s contract is going to be advanced.”

“We’re in the discussion phase of that now,” said Lenihan.

Hocoy, 52, was hired in 2017 as 11th president of ECC, succeeding former Congressman Jack Quinn Jr. He signed a three-year contract worth $225,000 a year in salary to lead the college of roughly 10,000 students. His contract runs through June 30.

When asked if the board has been happy with Hocoy’s job performance so far, Lenihan initially responded by saying he didn’t want to make any further comment. But he quickly added that Hocoy has “accomplished a lot of good things here.” He credited Hocoy for working the college through difficulties with its Middle States accreditation status and with holding the line on tuition and fee increases.

Rumors started circulating at ECC in late December that Hocoy had resigned or was fired. Both Lenihan and Hocoy said the rumors are not true.

“He’s never been fired. He’s never attempted to resign. There’s always a host of rumors that are out there. The bottom line is simply this: He has a contract until June 30 and we’re in discussions about what’s the best direction for us to move in the future,” said Lenihan. “Hopefully in the next couple of months we’ll have something to say on this.”

The Board of Trustees last met on Dec. 19 and spent nearly two hours in executive session to discuss collective negotiations pursuant to Article 14 of the Civil Service Law and the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.

The trustees said they did not take a vote during the executive session.

“I’ve heard rumors that I’m already gone,” Hocoy said with a laugh. “I think the rumors had to do with people believing that my contract ended calendar year of 2019 and there wasn’t any talk about renewal or whatever at the last board meeting and then people maybe thinking, ‘Oh maybe he’s out of a job now.’ ”

Hocoy said he and the board still have plenty of time to work out a new deal.

“We’ve been in discussions and we still have six months to figure it out, and that’s like an eternity,” he said. “We’ll figure it out, probably in the next three or four months. I think that’s the natural course of things.”

Hocoy spoke Wednesday morning at spring convocation for faculty and staff at the ECC South Campus in Orchard Park and did not mention his contract status. The spring semester begins next week.

Another circulating rumor is that when Hocoy leaves, the ECC board will appoint William D. Reuter to lead the college temporarily.

Reuter, 61, is vice president for administration and finance at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, but he has a long history with ECC, where he served as chief administrative and financial officer for nearly 20 years. He also had a stint as interim president in 2006 and 2007.

Reuter still has a home in Western New York, but he said he’s “very, very happy” at Hudson Valley Community College and hasn’t been contacted about returning to ECC.

Lenihan also said no one from the ECC board has been in touch with Reuter about a possible return.

ECC enrollment drops

Hocoy arrived in 2017 emphasizing an urgent need for innovation and change in the way ECC operates. He has sought to enroll more working adults through online degree programs and has pushed for the college to create a curriculum to address the potential for more than 1,000 new jobs at a proposed cannabis farm on Buffalo's waterfront, if the state legalizes marijuana.

"Cannabis is just a metaphor for new things, innovation and change," he said. "This is where the new economy is going."

Like most colleges, ECC has been dealing with enrollment declines as the pool of potential students of traditional college age continues to shrink. ECC’s enrollment fell by about 6% last fall compared with the fall of 2018.

Hocoy said in his convocation talk that community colleges across the state were in the same boat, with many of them seeing even worse enrollment declines. He said the state’s Excelsior Scholarship program, which provides free tuition to four-year State University of New York colleges and universities, appears to have contributed to enrollment losses at community colleges.

“We used to get some of our students, those that could not afford four years at UB or Buff State, they would do two years with us and then transfer over. Well, with Excelsior they don’t need to save the money by coming to us first. They could go straight to UB, straight to Fredonia ... ,” Hocoy said.

“This is essentially where we are, and this is the environment we’re going to be working in,” he added.

Despite those challenges, Hocoy said the college has been able to maintain a balanced budget with no increases in tuition and fees since his arrival in 2017 and currently has a “historic high” of $19 million in reserves.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education in November also removed three “warnings” for ECC, which is now in full compliance with all standards required to maintain its accreditation. The commission had threatened to revoke accreditation if the college did not improve its finances and how it assesses student learning.

A five-year contract between the college and its 900 full- and part-time faculty members also is set to expire later this year. The previous contract had expired in 2009, with the college and the Faculty Federation operating for six years without a new deal.

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