Letter targets RCTC leadership
Discontent with leadership at Rochester Community and Technical College boiled over into an official complaint this week.
A joint letter on behalf of faculty, staff and students was sent to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system office Monday morning asking for MnSCU action, citing "grave concern" over the state of the college and its leader, President Leslie McClellon, who was appointed in July 2014. The letter listed concerns with hiring practices, spending and the "atmosphere of negativity" that has been "pervasive and consistent" at the college.
"Without quick and decisive change, we fear McClellon's administration will irreparably harm the reputation of RCTC, lower the quality of education we offer our students and alienate our community partners," began the letter. "In her 18 months as president, her management has harmed virtually every corner of the campus."
The letter, signed by the Minnesota State College Faculty union — Rochester, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4001 and the Minnesota State College Student Association — Rochester, marks first time the three groups have officially collaborated, putting an official stamp on a list of concerns by listing their respective state organizations.
It also marks the first time the three state organizations have officially backed the RCTC campus' faculty, staff and students in a joint letter, said union leaders. Darci Stanford, MSCF vice president of liberal arts, said in recent months, the number of complaints about RCTC to the state union office has picked up at an alarming rate.
"For the most part, it's just been brewing, and it was just getting to the point where it was becoming more and more stuff, more frequently, and so it was just sending that message of urgency that steps needed to be taken," Stanford said. "Now, the system needs to take some steps."
Stanford said the next step is up to the MnSCU system office and MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone.
"I am aware of the concerns that have been expressed. From my perspective, the campus community is engaging in open and honest discussion about some very important and very sensitive issues, and I support the ongoing dialogue," said Rosenstone in a statement Monday.
Doug Anderson, MnSCU director of communications and media, said the contents of the letter couldn't be discussed by the system beyond Rosenstone's statement because it contained personnel data.
McClellon said she received the letter in a Monday statement.
"College leadership and I appreciate the questions and concerns addressed in the letter and continue to welcome the opportunity to discuss those concerns to those represented on the communication," McClellon said in a statement Monday. "We are encouraged by those who are taking the time to dialogue with us in order to address the issues."
"Our students are our No. 1 priority — that's why we're here," McClellon's statement continued. "The RCTC administration, faculty and staff want our students to succeed — and when our students succeed, then we ALL succeed."
This letter comes as the college faces a number of challenges, including re-accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission in 2017 , a projected $2 million deficit, a 1 percent mandated tuition reduction and a decline in enrollment . Faculty, staff and student leaders say they don't have strong confidence the leadership can take on these challenges.
"This demoralizing climate and the lack of leadership affects the classroom, committee work such as accreditation, master academic planning and strategic planning — all of which have barely progressed," said the letter.
About a year and a half into her tenure, McClellon first caused a stir over spending on the college's centennial celebration events, specifically $20,000 spent on a Louisiana jazz musician, $6,800 on an academic mace and another $3,200 spent on a golden president's "chain of office ."
"It's really unraveled really fast, so it's a big concern," Stanford said. "Our perspective is there needs to be a leader that can come in and smooth things over and create a collaborative environment again, and get everybody on the right track and set things in a positive motion — build that relationship and that trust again."
A letter was drafted in late December 2014, with the union names set to be attached, but it never received official union approval. An unsigned, revised three-page version was sent in January to the system offices expressing concern over administrative termination of high-level employees and how administrative searches were handled.
"Even though campus stakeholders looked forward to continuing our success under the leadership of President McClellon, the situation has deteriorated quickly," read the January letter. "We are requesting that the MnSCU system office assist in improving the atmosphere on the RCTC campus."
Within the last week, AFSCME also sent a separate letter voicing concerns. So did a group of faculty members. Students have also voiced their concerns.
"This crisis has implications for everyone in the Rochester area. The state and others can pour as much money as they want into this city – at the end of the day, if we don't create a workforce, DMC is DOA (dead on arrival). Yet the primary provider of higher education in Rochester is being destroyed by mismanagement and it seems like no one is paying attention," said Mike Wenzel, student senate president in a statement.
"The students hope that someone will step in and fix the problem before the situation deteriorates any further," he added.
While the January letter only sought help from the MnSCU system, Monday's letter was more explicit in its criticism.
"These concerns have existed since early in McClellon's tenure at RCTC. We as a faculty, staff and students tried to work with the president and allow her time to develop in her role. We believe that our current situation in terms of finance, publicity, campus morale, and the ability to work successfully in the campus and the community has deteriorated in the 11 months since we last expressed concern to the system office."
Previously, McClellon asserted she has attempted to address concerns, but faculty, staff and students weren't bringing their concerns directly to her.
The hiring process
Faculty members and staff point to the way McClellon has handled hiring at the college as a top concern. In the letter they said their trust in the search process has been "eroded."
Faculty members say after search committees put forward viable candidates, McClellon didn't choose one of them but instead deemed the process "failed," resulting in a second search or an interim appointment choice made by McClellon. The final hiring decision is officially up to the president, but faculty members and staff say after extensive committee work and searches it can be disheartening for faculty.
Upon her arrival, two senior administrators were dismissed, leaving positions that needed to be filled right away to deal with impending accreditation and enrollment issues.
Specifically of concern is McClellon's most recent hire, a candidate for vice president of student affairs, Anthony Brown.
After Brown's hiring, a biography was sent out with the hiring announcement in early November, but it omitted a significant portion of his work history — almost 15 years at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina — where he was an administrator in charge of campus security.
In 2013, an investigation of campus police and security revealed the college and campus police failed to investigate of number of criminal complaints, including allegations of sexual assault. It led to criminal charges against the campus police chief and a campus security officer as well as the resignation of the university's chancellor and Brown's "retirement."
Days before he was set to start at RCTC, Brown withdrew his acceptance of the offer , following a Post-Bulletin article about that investigation.
According to the letter, the search committee put together to fill the vice president for student affairs position put forward three candidates, but they were declined by McClellon. A second "hastily executed search was conducted, and Dr. Brown was chosen," said the letter.
Jennifer Erwin, an AFSCME union steward, said the staff she represents have been especially concerned about these processes and the letter
"Everything kind of came to a head with the Dr. Brown thing," Erwin said. "This speaks to numerous improper hiring processes. It speaks to her pattern of behavior, and it continues to become more brazen. ... Everybody's on board, and now, it's time to take care of it."