Embattled Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle is defending his controversial spending of taxpayer and foundation money on travel and entertainment. He’s also complaining about what he says is a “rush to judgment” by state officials.
Dobelle filed a 20–page single spaced letter to Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland to explain his spending and offered to make available for review thousands of pages of documents dating back five years. He also mounted a defense in a video produced by a Boston public relations firm and posted on YouTube.
In the letter Dobelle insists he has not misused hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent on travel and entertainment and charged either to the school or its fundraising arm the Westfield State University Foundation.
In the video, produced by Regan Communications, Dobelle said he has been consistently praised by the university’s board of trustees during his six years as president and was recently rewarded with a 3 percent pay raise.
Questions about Dobelle’s spending came to light in late August with an auditors’ report to the Westfield State board of trustees that flagged trips Dobelle and other university staff made, including travels to Asia and 15 trips to San Francisco. The audit said school policies were violated and record keeping was sloppy, but there was no allegation of fraud.
Dobelle acknowledges that he charged personal expenses to the university credit card that he later reimbursed in accordance with what he believed at the time to be standard practices.
Dobelle has claimed the audit was improper because it was not sanctioned by the full board of trustees in an open meeting. Dobelle’s spokesman and his attorney have suggested the trustees have broken laws and that the chairman of the board is out to get Dobelle to further a hidden agenda.
At a meeting last month with Westfield State trustees, Commissioner Freeland said Dobelle’s travel spending seemed excessive. In his written response Monday, Dobelle said his spending on travel in four years was $50,000 less than what the university budgeted.
Addressing criticism that spending on entertainment and dinners at restaurants has not produced any return for the university, Dobelle’s letter cites events for donors that cost a total of $18,000 and resulted in donations totaling more than $230,000.
Dobelle’s response to Freeland was due on October 3rd. After the deadline was missed Freeland froze $197,000 in funding to the university and recommended withholding another $2 million for construction of a science building.
Governor Deval Patrick said he supports Freeland’s move.
In an emailed statement, Dobelle’s spokesman George Regan said Governor Patrick and Commissioner Freeland should “ review the facts” before making “ derogatory statements” about Dobelle. He said Dobelle found “ this rush to judgment disturbing and dangerous to the integrity of the due process system”
The controversy is expected to come to a head on October 16th when the Westfield State board of trustees have scheduled a special meeting. The university faculty is planning a no-confidence vote in Dobelle for the same day.