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Ex-UH president defends spending at Massachusetts university

By Scott Allen & Andrea Estes

New York Times

LAST UPDATED: 10:59 a.m. HST, Aug 30, 2013

WESTFIELD » Westfield State University president Evan Dobelle Thursday night rejected a review that found he violated policies on travel and personal use of credit cards, calling it "defaming" and "illegal" because the full board of trustees did not approve it in advance.

Dobelle declined to address the details at a special trustees meeting called to release the long-awaited report, which was made public at the end of the two-hour meeting. But Dobelle defended his record, saying that much of the spending detailed in the report had brought an enormous return to the school. His controversial trip to China, which cost $140,000, led to an increase in international students coming to Westfield State, he said.

''I'm deeply proud of what our university has accomplished," he said. "I was hired by Westfield State to be an agent of change . . . to take us to the next level," he added. "We have done exactly that."

The auditor who prepared the report, David A. DiIulis of the firm O'Connor and Drew, presented his findings, but did not go into detail. "There were some violations of university policy," he said, referring to Dobelle's use of credit cards for personal expenses.

But a portion of the report, previously obtained by the Globe, cites scores of questionable expenditures including more than $3,000 for Boston Symphony Orchestra tickets, $975 for tickets to see folk singer Arlo Guthrie, and a $1,000 donation to the Dukakis Center at Northeastern University. It showed that Dobelle mixed personal spending with business in racking up more than $180,000 on a credit card issued to him by the private fund-raising arm of the school, the Westfield State College Foundation.

The review was completed in March, but the auditors were waiting for Dobelle to respond. Last week, he informed them he would not provide a written response. He said he preferred to meet face to face with the accountants, but they said he was intimidating.

Dobelle said the full board of trustees never approved the decision to undertake the review, only the executive committee, which agreed in secret meetings to hire O'Connor and Drew, he said.

Dobelle said that from start to finish the review process was invalid. "I felt a responsibility to adhere to . . . the laws of the Commonwealth. I'm not going to participate in something that shuts out the majority of the board members and is illegal."

He said the documents presented to him were defaming, and provided no context for why he spent the money. And, he added, a university lawyer told him the report was "not a professional product because of syntax, use of cliches," and excessive opinions.

Several members of the board praised Dobelle, saying his biggest mistake was not telling his story of accomplishment sooner.

''I've noticed and admired the visionary qualities of Dr. Dobelle," said Terrell M. Hill, a 1992 Westfield State alumnus and board member. "When you're a visionary and you try to do something great and meaningful, you're going to have detractors."

''You're my hero," responded Dobelle, referring to Hill's work as the principal of a high school in Connecticut.

Board chairman Jack Flynn acknowledged Dobelle's accomplishments, but added that the board must still grapple with the spending controversy and the fallout it has wrought. At least one major donor has withdrawn a promised $100,000 donation.

''There's some responsibility here to clean things up," Flynn said. "It doesn't detract from the good things that have been accomplished here, but it doesn't excuse it. This is going to take time. . . . I'm having a hard time figuring out how we get through it."

Flynn acknowledged that the executive committee discussed the review privately. "The executive committee spent a lot of time working on this issue and trying to resolve it. We understood quite candidly that this was a bit of an embarrassment both to the university and the people mentioned in the documents. My intent was to try to resolve this informally."

The trustees appeared to be divided at Thursday's meeting.

Flynn withdrew a motion to place a moratorium on air travel by Dobelle and other administrators until the spending matter was resolved after it became clear it would not pass.

The board approved a second motion delaying any final action until October to give the Massachusetts inspector general time to conduct its own investigation.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office oversees public charities like the school's foundation, is investigating.

The 32-page review covered spending by Dobelle and top administrators using university funds and foundation money.

Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

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allie wrote:
Dobelle is a real snake. Watch him slither out of his latest scandal. Frankly, higher education breeds this kind of disaster. He keeps getting past along no matter how badly he does.
on August 30,2013 | 06:21AM
jimmyhouse67 wrote:
First things first, you were a kid when he was President so you have no knowledge of the situation. Secondly, he doesn't keep getting "past" along, he gets "passed" along. And you are a student of higher education? I have to wonder. Lastly, in terms of the sports page, you were also not here when Jones was the HC so why do you continue to comment on subjects of which you have no knowledge? As I continually tell my students, don't lie to impress people because it will eventually reveal your lack of ethics and brand you as a fake. Time to grow up.
on August 30,2013 | 09:19AM
Jimmy, I actually have to agree with Allie here. I beleive she was a student during the Dobelle fiasco as well as when JJ was HC. Back then of course Allie was usking the AKA, Euphrosyne.
on August 30,2013 | 12:17PM
whs1966 wrote:
The dummies at this school have no one to blame but themselves since they did not take the Dobelle/UHM mess seriously. They appear to be as useless as the UH BOR members.
on August 30,2013 | 06:29AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
We finally found an institution dumber than UH.
on August 30,2013 | 07:24AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
In selecting its next president, I hope UH will remember its past blunders and not make the same mistakes. No guaranteed contract, no golden parachutes, no over-the-top salary. Standard salary for the position laced with incentives for objectives accomplished. That's the way it should be.
on August 30,2013 | 07:33AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
In selecting its next president, I hope UH has learned from its mistakes of the past and not make the same ones again. No guaranteed contract, no golden parachutes, no over-the-top salary. Standard salary for the position laced with incentives based on objectives accomplished. That's the right way to do things. Protects UH and protects the public.
on August 30,2013 | 07:35AM
CriticalReader wrote:
We have enough of our own problems. We don't need to worry about the stupidity of "Westfield State University". On the other hand, one has to wonder whether this story has legs because UH Administrators are pushing.
on August 30,2013 | 07:56AM
mcc wrote:
They knew about him, they hired him, they are paying.
on August 30,2013 | 08:00AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Ha ha.....he's all yours Westfield......
on August 30,2013 | 08:36AM
gari wrote:
Visionary ,agent of change what all these pretty words ... where is the student educational level ... and vision for the future ?
on August 30,2013 | 09:02AM
fiveo wrote:
People should not be too critical or take any comfort in the situation being faced by Westfield State University regarding Dumbelle (I mean Dobelle). The Board Of Regents after all had to pay off Dobelle to get rid of him. Since then they have had the fiasco with Coach McMackin, Virginia Henshaw, and current UH President, MC Greenwood, and of course lets not forget the Wonder Blunder fiasco. There is no indication that the Regents or the UH Administration plan to reform or have learned anything from these past mistakes. Can't wait to find out who they come up to be the next UH President.
on August 30,2013 | 09:30AM
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