Leslie McClellon, the embattled president of a community college in Rochester, said Thursday that she is stepping down after a backlash over her spending and hiring decisions during her 18 months in office.

McClellon has been criticized by faculty, staff and students for, among other things, spending $10,000 of the school’s money on a ceremonial mace and gold chain for her formal installation at Rochester Community and Technical College in September. In November, the student government and two employee unions warned state officials that “without quick and decisive change,” McClellon’s administration would “irreparably harm” the college’s reputation.

In a campus e-mail Thursday, McClellon said that she would step down on Jan. 8 “in the best interest of the college.”

“My belief is that the current environment … is not healthy for our students, nor is it good for our community,” she wrote. “I have decided to mitigate the impasse by stepping aside as president.” She said she will take a new position as a senior system director at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.

Steven Rosenstone, the system’s chancellor, issued a statement thanking McClellon for her service and saying that he would recommend an interim president to succeed her. He said he hopes to find a permanent replacement by next fall.

Chad Israelson, the faculty union president, said that he was surprised by the sudden announcement but that his main concern is the impact on students. “It was just a difficult time,” he said. “Right now, we are just really looking forward. We’re not going to dwell on the past.”

The backlash against McClellon had been building for at least a year, according to faculty and student leaders, over her decisions to close certain programs and replace popular administrators with her own hires. In September, she raised eyebrows by spending $6,800 on a ceremonial mace, and $3,200 on a gold presidential chain, for her installation when the college was projecting a $2 million deficit. Two months later, her choice of a controversial new vice president provoked a backlash from students and faculty, and led to demands for change.

“In her 18 months as president, her management has harmed virtually every corner of the campus,” said a Nov. 23 letter to MnSCU officials from leaders of the student government, faculty and staff unions. They warned that the college’s accreditation may be in danger and that morale “has never been lower.”

McClellon, in her e-mail Thursday, wrote that she was “grateful to have served the college,” and pledged to “do everything within my power to ensure a smooth transition for RCTC’s next leader.”

Rosenstone said that McClellon has worked “tirelessly” to promote the college, increase student retention and reduce the achievement gap on campus. Her new administrative role, he wrote, “will enable her to continue to serve students.”