When Leslie McClellon was introduced as the next president of Rochester Community and Technical College in April 2014, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System trustees described her “authentic personality” and “get-it-done attitude” that made her stand out among the semifinalists for the job.
In the end, it was those traits that became her undoing as she announced her resignation Thursday after 18 months on the job. McClellon, the school’s first African-American president, was seen as an ideal person to take over Minnesota’s oldest community college in the midst of demographic change with 23 percent of its students being people of color. But it was other changes that stirred dissent on campus, shortly after McClellon officially began in her duties in July 2014.
Dismissals of the No. 2- and No. 3-ranked administrators on campus alienated the staff and faculty members.
Even so, the school year began with optimism, and McClellon postponed her installation ceremony to coincide with RCTC’s 100th anniversary celebration in September. But what should have been a time to commemorate the college’s legacy and future quickly turned to controversy.
Questions regarding spending related to RCTC’s centennial celebration were raised at a time when the college is facing declining enrollment and a projected deficit. Faculty members, staff and students said they felt their concerns related to expenses and other issues weren’t heard, creating what some perceived as an imperial presidency.
Frustration flared for some in the fall with the hiring of an interim vice president for student affairs, Anthony Brown, only to have Brown withdraw days after the Rochester Post-Bulletin reported that he had resigned from his last job after a state investigation of campus police and security. Brown’s record at his last job was conspicuously omitted from the biography released by RCTC.
Last week, McClellon’s supporters publicly defended her, saying her critics haven’t given her time to succeed. The result has created a community divide that will be difficult to overcome.
With the added weight of a critical preliminary accreditation report from the Higher Learning Commission, this is a challenging time at the college. Granted, higher education accreditation critiques tend to be sternly worded, but an interim president will face the challenge of moving forward while also trying to heal rifts that have been caused by what appears to be a lack of communication from all sides. While some may find satisfaction in McClellon’s decision, we see it as a somber moment for the campus, as well as the community.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE ROCHESTER POST-BULLETIN