Gaffney, 66, who has headed the 6,500-student school since October 2006, told the college's board of trustees of his decision to quit after the 2010-2011 school year at a meeting a week ago.
Eric Kopp, vice president for administration, said that Gaffney is leaving at the end of his five-year contract so he can spend more time with his grandchildren.
However, several high-level college sources say there's been a growing frustration by board chairman Scott Rudolph with Gaffney's fundraising efforts. Rudolph also is chairman of the $2.4-billion NBTY Inc. the world's largest vitamin marketer.
"By most measures the college was doing well," said one college official close to the situation. "But Scott was frustrated by the pace."
Sources also say earlier this year Rudolph, a major Dowling donor, got the board to change the by-laws to put the financial reins of the college into the hands of the board's five-member executive committee. Gaffney's announcement came only three weeks after Charles Stein, the college's chief financial officer, stepped down from his post.
Kopp, Gaffney's spokesman, denied any rift. He said Stein left for personal reasons and noted the college has raised $3.18 million since Gaffney became president. He said that Gaffney just walked into the last board meeting and informed them of his plans. "At 67, it seems like the appropriate time," according to the spokesman. Rudolph could not be reached for comment Monday.
Backers say under Gaffney's leadership Dowling in the last two years has experienced record freshmen enrollment. He also completed a sports complex at the college's Brookhaven campus at the town airport in Shirley. That move has allowed the school to return commencement to college grounds and begin a new homecoming tradition. The school had held commencements at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Gaffney also raised the college's profile by creating the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute which has done studies and held forums on key regional issues.
Kopp said college officials will begin a search shortly to find a successor to Gaffney.