Barhorst Welcome Center

The Madison Area Technical College District Board named the college's new Welcome Center on the Truax campus after Bettsey Barhorst, who in January announced her retirement as president of the college after overseeing a $133.7 million building referendum in 2010. The board also extended Barhorst's contract through the end of the year as a consultant to incoming president Jack E. Daniels.

David Peterson is making Madison College an offer he hopes it can’t refuse.

The longtime accounting instructor at the college is offering to donate $100,000 to the institution if it agrees to change the name of the recently-constructed campus welcome center, which currently honors the college's recently-retired president, Bettsey Barhorst.

He outlined his proposal in a letter to Barhorst's successor, Jack Daniels III.

"I understand that the college is facing a budget shortfall and I have a proposal that will help alleviate that situation. I propose to purchase the naming rights to the newly constructed welcome center at the Truax Campus for $100,000.00. As such, the new name shall be: MADISON COLLEGE WELCOME CENTER. The name change shall occur by November 15 of the current year with the stipulation that I take physical possession of the discarded letters, BETTSEY L. BARHORST, that are currently used in the display."

In an email to the Cap Times, Peterson called the Welcome Center a "decadent display of self-promotion," at the expense of area taxpayers. Ideally, he says, the Welcome Center's name should be "functional, not personal."

But, he points out, if it is to be named after an MATC leader, why should it be Barhorst, whose seven year tenure, was relatively short when compared to her predecessors?

Madison College's answer is simple: Barhorst paid for the naming rights with her own money. Therefore, despite voicing gratitude for Peterson's offer, Daniels says he is unable to entertain the request. 

"The naming rights to the Welcome Center were approved by Madison College’s District Board of Trustees on Aug. 14, 2013," he says in a statement. "This decision was based on the significant financial contributions made to the college by Dr. Bettsey and Mr. Alan Barhorst."

According to college policy, campus structures can only be named after donors whose gifts provide a substantial portion of the construction costs. The guidelines suggest a minimum of 25 percent of the total costs, but also state that the minimum might be waived if the contribution is nevertheless "integral" to the project.

The college typically does not disclose the specific amount contributed by donors, but college spokesman Bill Bessette says that Barhorst's donation was at least "six figures."

That contribution therefore more than covered what the college refers to as the Welcome Center, which Bessette says includes the reception counter, the accompanying light fixtures and some other related expenses. Those total costs amounted to $87,956. 

That figure is coincidentally similar to the amount that Barhorst, who retired over the summer, will be paid as a consultant to the college in the coming year: $88,000. Peterson says he believes the consulting fee is an example of the former leader's poor stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Peterson thinks that Barhorst's name in the lobby gives the impression that the entire building, not just the small counter area, is named after her.

"So she pays for the desk and gets popular credit for the whole building," he says. "That is a nice trick!" 

He believes there are more meaningful ways Barhorst could have left a mark at the college. 

"Rather than greedily picking the college’s pocket for an additional $88,000 upon leaving, she should have contributed $88,000 to the college foundation for scholarships in her name as a fitting 'thank you' for being allowed to serve," he says.

Public records indicate Peterson's salary in 2012 was $99,189, roughly the amount of his proposed gift. Although he refuses to disclose his income or wealth, he says he makes more money on business ventures outside of the classroom, including as a landlord.

Barhorst did not respond to an email seeking comment. 

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