Erie Community College’s $300 tuition hike this year is the largest among community colleges in the state. The college has been dipping into its fund balance to make up for a shortfall in revenue caused by declining enrollment. College officials have held off on hiring new faculty members.
And yet, the ECC board of trustees is expected to create a new upper-level management post at the college today that will pay about $140,000 annually.
ECC President Jack Quinn plans to hire his former congressional aide, Michael J. Pietkiewicz, as the college’s senior vice president for operations, effective Monday.
The plan for the new executive position – which would be the second-highest ranking and second-highest paying job at the college – is raising eyebrows on ECC’s three campuses, especially among faculty and staff who have been watching vacant positions remain unfilled because administrators and trustees say there isn’t enough money.
“It’s just stunning,” said George DeRosa, president of the Administrators Association of Erie Community College, which represents 167 administrators, directors and supervisors. “We’re having some serious issues with our enrollment. We’ve been dipping into our fund balance for three years in a row. Our fund balance is going to disappear in two to three years. Then what? I don’t understand what they’re doing.”
The planned hire also seemed to come from out of the blue, although Stephen Boyd, chairman of the college’s board of trustees, said the post has been discussed by board members since at least last year.
Boyd said the new position will allow Quinn to focus on broader concerns, including forging connections within the community and growing college programs and enrollment.
“We want a president who thinks big and this will free him up to do that,” said Boyd.
Many other colleges have a position known as provost, the chief academic officer who usually is second in command, he added. But ECC needs a person with operational expertise, more so than academic credentials, Boyd said.
The job was not posted or advertised, and it appears that Pietkiewicz, 43, was the only candidate considered.
“There’s not even a job description written,” said Andrew Sako, president of the Faculty Federation of ECC. “I have reached out to a number of board members to ask what the rationale is, and I haven’t gotten a response that I think is adequate.”
Boyd and Quinn acknowledged that there was no formal search.
“I’m aware of that criticism,” said Boyd. “We wanted this to be somebody who could work with Jack at a very confidential level. We wanted this to be Jack’s pick.”
Quinn served in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2004, and Pietkiewicz was a key member of his staff from 1993 to 1999.
The University at Buffalo hired Pietkiewicz as director of federal affairs in 1999. He has been UB’s assistant vice president for government and community relations since 2010, and he earned about $108,000 in that capacity in 2013, according to SeeThroughNY.net, a website that tracks salaries of public employees in New York.
Quinn said he sought to hire Pietkiewicz because of his significant experience in higher education, not because of his past political work on behalf of the former congressman.
“I’ve watched him perform at a high level working for three presidents at UB – Bill Greiner, John Simpson and now Satish Tripathi. His responsibility has expanded each time and he’s answered the call,” Quinn said.
He said Pietkiewicz knows the State University of New York system and the state legislative process inside out and is the ideal candidate to help follow through on many initiatives now being pursued by the college, including Start-Up NY economic development projects, the SUNY 20/20 plan, and a new nanotechnology program at ECC in cooperation with the University at Albany.
Nearly 1,000 faculty members at ECC have been working without a new contract for years and an impasse in negotiations with the college was declared in May.
Sako said rank and file members will be outraged to learn about the new executive hire.
“Unions are always called on the carpet because of the terms and conditions of their contracts, yet the administration seems to get a free ride on these things,” he said. “This is a board that wants accountability from us. Where is their accountability to the taxpayers and students?”
The hire, he added, doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of students on campuses that need more teachers, clerical staff and maintenance workers.
“They need to put money into the classrooms, into the labs, into what the students need,” Sako said.