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RCTC centennial spending raises eyebrows

RCTC gala spending

It was billed as a once-in-a-century party to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Rochester Community and Technical College, complete with a nationally known jazz artist, a five-tier birthday cake and community leaders dressed to the nines.

But some say the celebration last month was more extravagant than it needed to be, and it raised questions about how money was being spent.

At a time when enrollment is down 4.6 percent from fall 2014, RCTC is projecting a $2 million deficit for 2017 and money is tight in the cash-strapped Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, some faculty members and students at RCTC are questioning spending for the college's centennial celebrations. With recent administrative changes and two years of planning and reaccreditation on the horizon, some are concerned about the administration's priorities.

The purchase of a $6,800 academic mace — a ceremonial symbol of higher education, but one that's new to RCTC and uncommon at two-year colleges — and a $3,200 golden "chain of office," to be worn by the college president at official events — among other purchases, strike some on campus as extravagances.

Both were ordered for the centennial celebration and formal installation of the college's 13th president, Leslie McClellon, and paid for by the college's general fund.


RCTC, the state's oldest public two-year college, began its year-long centennial celebration on Sept. 17 with the formal installation of McClellon at the Founder's Day event. Her installation was attended by MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone, Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. John Noseworthy, the event's keynote speaker, as well as other community leaders.

McClellon, who became president in July 2014, said the celebration marks a milestone for the college and only happens once.

"This marks a great centennial celebration for the college," McClellon said. "...we want to do something a little different to signify our traditions and our commitment to our community and to the college."

Dezz Lewis, the college's interim director of donor relations, who helped plan the gala, said people haven't directly approached him with complaints about the costs.

"I don't know if it's a small group, or whatever, but they're majoring on the minor," Lewis said. "You only turn 100 once, and the significance of this gala is being overshadowed by a group of people who are disgruntled."

Others say the gripes are surfacing because of tension between faculty and administration.

"We hear a lot about a budget crisis, we're looking at deficits in the coming years, they've told us to anticipate layoffs, so for faculty... the concern is our priorities," said Faculty President Chad Israelson, a professor in the history department. "We have a long, rich tradition of success at RCTC and we want to continue that, and I think people are concerned money is being allocated to the wrong things."

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