Westfield State University suspends president amid spending flap
WESTFIELD (AP) - Westfield State University put president Evan Dobelle on administrative leave Thursday and hired a Boston legal firm to investigate his expenditures after he was criticized for charging personal expenses on school credit cards and spending lavishly on foreign travel.
Following an all-night meeting, trustees chairman John Flynn said the board voted unanimously to put Dobelle on paid leave during an investigation into "spending, employment and leadership" at the university as well as its fundraising arm, Westfield State Foundation. The results of the investigation are due Nov. 25, Flynn said.
Dobelle did not take questions. His attorney, Ross Garber, told the Springfield Republican he was disappointed but not surprised "given the enormous amount of political pressure" involved.
State higher education Commissioner Richard Freeland had frozen discretionary state funding for Westfield and criticized Dobelle, saying the "reckless manner" he acted in had damaged the university's reputation.
A spokesman for Dobelle quickly issued a statement vowing a federal lawsuit against the university and saying the board had buckled to political pressure, according to The Boston Globe.
"The board has defamed president Dobelle and allowed him to be defamed and there will be major consequences to these actions," publicist George Regan said in a statement released to the newspaper. Regan's office did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press.
University auditors reported in August that Dobelle and other top officials violated school policy by charging personal expenses to school credit cards. Dobelle has said he was following past practice and fully reimbursed Westfield for the personal charges.
Dobelle, who has led the university since 2007, has also responded to criticism that he spent on luxury hotels and restaurants during overseas trips, saying the spending was "strategically planned" and brought a significant return on investment for the school.
State Inspector General Glenn Cunha last month urged the trustees to challenge Dobelle's claims that his travel had been a financial benefit to the school because it attracted international students. Cunha said the majority of those students were in fact Massachusetts residents who pay in-state tuition though they are not U.S. citizens.
The trustees began their meeting Wednesday afternoon but the closed-door session lasted through the evening and into the following morning. Before the meeting, a union representing faculty and librarians at the state university voted no confidence in Dobelle by a more than 2-1 margin.
Dobelle has tried to turn the tables on several of the trustees, including Flynn, claiming they have acted vindictively and violated university bylaw. In a Sept. 25 letter, Garber said Flynn hired the auditing firm without authorization from the full board and that he met with two other trustees in violation of the state's open meeting laws.
The school did not name an acting president while the investigation is conducted.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.