Our Opinion: Duty to Westfield State
Embattled Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle and his public relations man are floating theories that a conspiracy is underway to sabotage his leadership. Meanwhile Governor Deval Patrick says he supports cutting off state funding to the school, one that has long served Berkshire residents, because of his concerns not only about Mr. Dobelle's spending habits but the school president's sluggish response to questions about this spending. Mr. Dobelle must realize that his approach is hurting the school he has devoted so much time and talent to and it is time to change.
Mr. Dobelle missed last Friday's state-imposed deadline to defend his spending on travel and expensive hotels and restaurants and respond to accusations that he improperly used university credit cards. This prompted the state's Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland to freeze grants to Westfield State as well as $2 million in capital funding toward a new science center. According to the Boston Globe, Mr. Dobelle's spin doctor, George Regan, found this action to be bizarre, but deadlines are deadlines. Mr. Dobelle responded on Monday, asserting in a letter that Westfield State's board of trustees had recently praised his leadership in a 20-page letter and given him a raise, and that the school's finances are strong.
According to The Globe report, Mr. Dobelle did not address allegations that he told a staff member to revise his report on a trip in May to San Francisco that wrongly gave trustees the impression that he had actually met with officials from various Bay Area charitable foundations. Also unaddressed were claims by Mr. Dobelle that his foreign trips brought 123 international students to the school this fall, which according to The Globe contradicts school documents showing only 31 foreign students in attendance, only two of whom pay full out-of-state tuition. In Tuesday's Globe, Edward Marth, chairman of the Westfield State College Foundation, disputed Mr. Dobelle's claims of fundraising success, asserting that if they were true the foundation would not have needed a $400,000 bailout in part caused by the school president's spending.
Mr. Dobelle and Mr. Regan have adopted a strategy of distraction, claiming that Jack Flynn, chairman of the board of trustees and a senior official in the state police, is teaming with unnamed co-conspirators to sabotage Mr. Dobelle because the school president is foiling Mr. Flynn's efforts to turn Westfield State into a "diploma mill" for state troopers. (Mr. Flynn presumably signed off on the letter of praise to Mr. Dobelle and the pay hike less than a year ago.) Westfield State used to be just that, and Mr. Dobelle deserves whatever credit is coming to him for ending a practice not worthy of the school, but these claims of conspiracy by the former Pittsfield mayor have nothing whatsoever to do with his spending practices, which are the issue here. Adding Governor Patrick and Mr. Freeland to the list of conspirators won't change that.
It's understandable that Governor Patrick believes that Mr. Dobelle is "not taking these concerns seriously." Mr. Dobelle should stop playing the victim, pointing fingers and seeking out conspiracies. Instead, he should own up to his actions and fully answer questions of legitimate interest to taxpayers. Westfield State's well-being may now be at stake.
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