WESTFIELD, Mass.>> State Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland froze $197,000 in funding for Westfield State University late Friday after its president, former University of Hawaii president Evan Dobelle, missed a deadline to explain travel spending criticized by its outside auditor and the state inspector general.
Freeland also announced he’s recommending withholding another $2 million for a planned science center.
Freeland had set a Thursday deadline for President Dobelle to submit his report. Dobelle asked for an extension until Monday, which was denied.
Freeland spokeswoman Katy Abel said the commissioner urges Dobelle “to provide these answers to the public without further delay.” She said Freeland hopes to work with Westfield trustees to resolve concerns about the university’s financial management and restore the funds.
On Friday night, Dobelle’s spokesman George Regan called Freeland’s move “bizarre” and a revengeful attempt to “blackmail” the trustees instead of waiting two days for “a thoughtful, comprehensive response.”
Westfield State’s auditors reported in August that Dobelle and other top university officials violated travel and credit card policies. There was no allegation of fraud, but auditors said expense record-keeping was poor.
Dobelle, who has led Westfield State for six years, has said the spending was “strategically planned” and resulted in a significant return on investment for the university. He said any improper personal expenses were unintentional and were repaid and use of credit cards followed past practices.
At a state Board of Higher Education meeting last month, Freeland told Westfield State trustees thatDobelle’s travel spending showed “a pattern of seemingly excessive and indulgent personal and professional expenses.”
The Springfield Republican reported that the board was expected to hold a special meeting as soon as next week.
Dobelle served as UH president from 2001 to 2004, when the UH Board of Regents voted to fire him and then allowed him resign over allegations of improper spending from his UH Foundation protocol fund.