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Mass. university suspends Dobelle over spending allegations

By Associated Press & Star-Advertiser

LAST UPDATED: 08:45 p.m. HST, Oct 17, 2013

WESTFIELD, Mass. >> Westfield State University named an interim leader today, hours after the school's board of trustees voted to suspend president Evan Dobelle amid criticism that he charged personal expenses on school credit cards and spent lavishly on foreign travel.

Elizabeth Preston, the school's vice president for academic affairs, will serve as acting president in Dobelle's absence and oversee the day-to-day operations of the university.

"We share a deep and abiding commitment to the mission of the University and to our students," Preston wrote in a letter to faculty and staff. "That passion for the institution has resulted in heated debate over the past few weeks but is also a source of strength for us as we wrestle with the challenges we now face."

Dobelle, a former University of Hawaii president, has defended his spending and is expected to file a federal lawsuit challenging the decision by trustees.

Following a lengthy meeting, trustees chairman John Flynn said the voted unanimously early today to put Dobelle on paid administrative leave while a private law firm hired by the university conducted 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.

State higher education Commissioner Richard Freeland had earlier frozen discretionary state funding for Westfield and criticized Dobelle, saying the "reckless manner" he acted in had damaged the university's reputation.

Dobelle did not comment after the meeting but his personal spokesman, George Regan, issued a statement promising that a lawsuit would be filed naming Freeland, Flynn and the board of trustees.

Flynn and the council's executive committee "conducted an illegal investigation against President Dobelle and they will have to answer to much more serious charges than the allegations that had been manufactured against Mr. Dobelle," Regan said.

"The Board has defamed President Dobelle and allowed him to be defamed and there will be major consequences to these actions," said Regan.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Martha Coakley's office sent a letter to the trustees launching an investigation into whether Dobelle made illegal false claims to obtain reimbursement for his expenses. Dobelle charged more than $200,000 in expenses to one university-related card in a two-year period, much of it on travel, luxury hotels, and high-end restaurants.

Prior to the trustees' meeting Wednesday, a union representing faculty and librarians at the state university voted no confidence in Dobelle by a more than 2-1 margin.

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.

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, Dobelle's private attorney, Ross 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. Garber previously said that any suspension would be challenged in court.

Dobelle has been harshly criticized by Richard Freeland, the state's commissioner of higher education. In a scathing letter sent to trustees last week, Freeland said the "reckless manner" in which Dobelle acted had damaged the university's reputation.

The power to discipline or remove the president lies solely with trustees, but Freeland has frozen discretionary state funding for Westfield and urged the board to act Wednesday. He did not specify what action he preferred.

George Regan, a Boston-based public relations executive hired by Dobelle, dismissed Freeland's letter as being part of a coordinated "smear campaign."

Dobelle's troubles at the Massachusetts university are similar to his controversial tenure at the UH from 2001 to 2004.

UH regents in 2004 unanimously voted to fire him amid charges of lavish spending, dishonesty, and wasting university resources.

"We have come to the realization that the president no longer has our trust," then-regents chairwoman Patricia Lee said in revealing the decision. Minutes of the meeting where they decided to fire him reveal that others questioned Dobelle's honesty, integrity, and competence and one said he "could not take another year of the president's lies and deceptions."

Dobelle said he was a victim of a vendetta by the Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, and he fought back with lawyers and a Los Angeles public relations firm.

He threatened to sue for wrongful termination and challenged the regents to come up with a specific reason why they were terminating his 10-year contract. The regents balked and paid off Dobelle, who resigned and received a severance package.

Dobelle boasted to the Boston Globe that he walked away from the UH with $3.8 million, not including the $1 million the university paid to his lawyers and $100,000 for his publicist.


The Boston Globe contributed to this report.

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HanabataDays wrote:
"Dobelle boasted to the Boston Globe that he walked away from the UH with $3.8 million, not including the $1 million the university paid to his lawyers and $100,000 for his publicist." I wonder whether that piece ran after the Westfield State University trustees had completed their due diligence. Glad we took out the trash, like we did with John Leopold: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-02-01/local/36678044_1_protection-detail-john-r-leopold-scheduler
on October 17,2013 | 11:14AM
allie wrote:
Dobelle signs on with weak universities, poorly run and inexperienced universities and picks their pockets. He is an expert at this and gets away with it. Kleptomaniac.
on October 17,2013 | 12:18PM
markat wrote:
Dobelle's modus operandi. 1) Exploit employer 2) Extort with lawsuit 3) Resign with huge settlement 4) REPEAT
on October 17,2013 | 04:20PM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
SA, can you stop reporting on this guy? He's gone, jeez. How's about doing something useful like investigative journalism instead. There's tons more useful topics we could hear about than this LOSER who no longer is here in Hawaii.
on October 17,2013 | 11:25AM
false wrote:
on October 17,2013 | 03:11PM
islandmom wrote:
Dobelle was hired there after leaving UH under a huge cloud that the entire academic world had to have heard about, plus there was that other scandal where he pretended he was a reporter from the Chronicle of Higher Education to try to get salary information for a position he wanted, right? That board had to have known that he just doesn't have the ethics to be a leader.
on October 17,2013 | 11:28AM
allie wrote:
yup...thanks to Inouye who forced this guy on the UH when he was not the choice of the search committee according to my faculty
on October 17,2013 | 12:18PM
cojef wrote:
Brazen scoundrel, but you gotta admire his chutzpah and besides he gets away with it, smiling all the way to the bank. A scholarly shyster who used his earned degrees wisely. He loves the higg and good life, why not, someone else is paying for it. Wish I had a rich uncle or something like that. Could be be enjoys what he is doing. More power to him. There is more than one way to make a bu$k.
on October 17,2013 | 11:35AM
allie wrote:
yup,,and he kept mistresses at the ready while he was here.
on October 17,2013 | 12:19PM
localguy wrote:
While "Dysfunctional Dobelle" caused a lot of his own problems due to his willful incompetence, it sounds like Westfield State University had little to no oversight in place for Dobelle and other upper level bureaucrats. They should have already had a plan in place for use of issued credit cards and travel expenses. This would have been part of the contract Dobelle would have signed, with the warning of failing to follow these standards can lead to suspension. This way his lawyer couldn't make excuses, Dobelle's signature is on it saying he understands the rules. Why is it those who do the hiring are so incompetent when it comes to looking after funds? Why do they fail? UH Manoa being a prime example. No morality clause in the contract. Institutions of higher learning? Hardly. All they had to do is follow DoD travel and credit card guidance, solid procedures in place, set amounts to spend in place. Exceed them and you can be held accountable for payment.
on October 17,2013 | 11:52AM
allie wrote:
yup..see my comment above
on October 17,2013 | 12:20PM
pgkemp wrote:
booted would be also good.........
on October 17,2013 | 12:06PM
HAJAA1 wrote:
The schools are the stupid ones, not Dobelle.
on October 17,2013 | 12:32PM
paradiddle wrote:
He doesn't need the money. His addiction is power and he thrives abusing the system. He has no integrity or scruples ..he is a natural for politics.
on October 17,2013 | 12:36PM
OldEnoughToRemember wrote:
This is so common in academia. Each institution has a revolving door of this type of abuse and every time they cave into threats of lawsuits from those doing the abuse. In a sense, the lack of transparency and internal protectionism fosters this type of mentality and they kind of deserve it due to their own lack of due diligence. Folks like Dobelle spot these low caliber managed schools and treat them like their own trust fund accounts. There will always be plenty of these gigs to be had due to the ingrained culture these schools constantly nurture and fertilize.
on October 17,2013 | 12:47PM
allie wrote:
agree..you nailed it!
on October 17,2013 | 01:10PM
false wrote:
Gee sounds so familiar eh?
on October 17,2013 | 03:12PM
lowtone123 wrote:
Westfield State should have seen his track record here to know he was bad news. We here at the University of Hawaii would have spotted something like that in a heartbeat and stayed away from hiring......oh...um, nevermind.
on October 17,2013 | 02:45PM
tutulois wrote:
There were warning signs in his record that should have prevented UH from hiring him as president -- IF the trustees had done their due diligence. They repeated a similar mistake with Greenwood. They never seem to learn...
on October 17,2013 | 02:49PM
false wrote:
In that picture that is continuously use he seem to be thinking "I really pull one off on those dummies in Hawaii"
on October 17,2013 | 03:10PM
fairgame947 wrote:
Good move Westfield State. The guys is a "take and run" kind of guy. He doesn't know when he's got a good thing going, he wants MORE!! Fire his okole.
on October 17,2013 | 03:15PM
Margaret8 wrote:
Hey wasn't he Inouye's pick? Nobody talks about that expensive blunder!!
on October 17,2013 | 03:16PM
50skane wrote:
why do smart people hire smart crooks!! Don't they check into what happened at his last place of employment!!
on October 17,2013 | 04:50PM
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