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Board weighs action against university president

October 17, 2013

WESTFIELD, Mass. (AP) — Trustees of Westfield State University met into the night Wednesday, weighing action against the school’s president, who has come under fire after reports of lavish spending during overseas travel and improper use of school credit cards.

The board met for hours behind closed doors. Prior to the meeting, a union representing faculty and librarians at the state university voted no confidence in Evan Dobelle by a more than 2-1 margin.

The trustees could suspend Dobelle. His lawyer has threatened to take legal action if that occurs.

Dobelle has defended his spending and a spokesman for the president has alleged that trustees’ chair Jack Flynn acted without authorization in hiring an accounting firm to review the president’s expense reports.

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 at the time 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.”

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