In a little over five years as president of Westfield State University, former Pittsfield Mayor Evan Dobelle has done much to push a once parochial teachers college into greater prominence. It has come at a cost, however, one that is too much to bear for a public college.
A Boston Globe story Sunday catalogued Mr. Dobelle's spending practices based on records leaked to the newspaper. Half a million dollars in fees for a celebrity speakers series brought in big names but constituted a crushing debt for the Westfield State College Foundation. A Far East tour established connections for the school but the $145,000 in bills could have been reduced if 10 people had not gone. Taking three journalism students to CBS News was a fine idea, but making the trip to New York City and back to Westfield by limousine cost $938. A commencement speaker was housed at Wheatleigh in Lenox, where the rooms are between $900 and $2,000 a night and the round-trip to Westfield about 75 miles.
Mr. Dobelle told The Globe these expenditures and others are about building the brand, and indeed Westfield State has a higher profile now than ever before. A spacious new dormitory opens next month, tuition has been frozen, and financial aid increased by more than 50 percent. The excessive spending undermines these efforts, however, as does the tangled mix of Mr. Dobelle's personal and business travel expenses. It is not good when a school foundation shuts down a president's credit card, as was the case at Westfield three years ago, and it was unwise of Mr. Dobelle to respond to this action by using the credit card of his executive assistant. He told The Globe that all the credit card expenses have been reimbursed.
The state inspector general and attorney general have launched investigations into Mr. Dobelle's spending reports. Mr. Dobelle's ambitions and accomplishments aside, Westfield is not Williams, public is not private, and this spending has done harm to what is a noble cause.