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$90,000 spent on MassBay inauguration raises questions

Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley spent more than $90,000 in university funds on a week of events marking the inauguration of Carole M. Berotte Joseph , the first Haitian to become head of a US college.

The idea was to promote diversity and reach out to current and potential donors in tight budget times. Some events drew crowds; others were sparsely attended.

The weeklong inauguration in May sparked an investigative report about the spending on WBZ-TV last night, and has caused a stir at the 5,000-student college.

Joseph, who became president in March of last year , has sent out e-mail messages defending the inauguration. "The Board of Trustees and I chose to invest in a weeklong celebration to create positive publicity and foster goodwill in the communities we serve," Joseph said. "The funds we spent will help establish MassBay as one of the Commonwealth's premier community colleges."

The inauguration followed that of Chancellor Michael F. Collins at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, which cost $512,252. Unlike MassBay, private funds largely paid for the UMass inauguration, according to a Globe report.

MassBay officials said they used vending machine proceeds and sales of sweat shirts, notebooks, and other items on campus to cover the inauguration costs.

Eileen O'Connor , a spokeswoman for the Board of Higher Education, said that whether to host an inauguration is up to each college and that the money should be collected and spent properly.

Yesterday, some community college officials said they have been reluctant to hold inaugurations when money is scarce.

Gail Carberry, who became president of Quinsigamond Community College in August, said she may forgo a celebration.

With the Worcester college facing a $250,000 shortfall in state funding, she said, she believes the $50,000 set aside for an inauguration could be better used elsewhere. Trustees will consider her request in January.

"At this point, I'm looking at budget cuts," Carberry said. "I can't justify having an inauguration."

Eight of the state's 15 community colleges, including MassBay, have had new presidents in the past five years. Bristol Community College spent $24,400 on an inauguration in 2001, but Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College didn't hold inaugurations.

"Holyoke is a strong institution with strong community support," said William F. Messner , Holyoke's president. "There wasn't a crying need for a large-scale celebration, but other institutions might have that need."

MassBay held a dozen inaugural events on its Wellesley and Framingham campuses, such as lectures and book discussions about Haitian culture and immigrants. About a quarter of the student body is black, Hispanic, or Asian.

Most events were free and open to the public. The big draws, besides the inaugural ceremony, were discussions with Edwidge Danticat , who wrote "Breath, Eyes, Memory" and Tracy Kidder, author of "Mountain Beyond Mountains," college officials said.

But few people showed up to hear the Yanvalou Drum & Dance Ensemble and other lectures.

"It was embarrassing to go to an auditorium that seats 800 people and only see 14 people seated," said Bruce A. Jackson , who is chairman of the science department and a professor of biotechnology and forensic science. "It's not a criminal act. Bad planning, maybe."

Jackson, however, supports Joseph's decision to have the events and said he believes the criticism of the spending stems from Joseph's detractors who are upset with her administrative changes.

According to the college, of the more than $90,000 spent on the events, this was some of the spending:

About $50,000 paid for travel, lodging, speaker fees, and event planners.

About $18,000 was for supplies and food.

About $23,000 went to audio, photography, and security.

The MassBay Foundation also used private donations and a matching state grant for a $36,833 inaugural gala for scholarship fund-raising at the Sheraton Framingham. The event raised $14,555, the college said.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com.

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