Westfeld State president fires back over spending

NORTHAMPTON — Firing back at his critics Monday, Westfield State University President Evan S. Dobelle issued a 20-page accounting of his travel expenditures and credit card use to the state’s higher education commissioner and, in an online video, hit back at Gov. Deval Patrick for criticizing him before all the facts were in.

In addition, Dobelle made available for Department of Higher Education Commissioner Richard M. Freeland’s review thousands of pages of information that are also in the hands of the state inspector general’s office, which is conducting an investigation into allegedly lavish spending by Dobelle and other staff at the university.

In his video, produced by a privately hired public relations firm, Dobelle addresses Patrick, who has been critical of the situation and questioned some of Dobelle’s decisions.

“He’s been down this road before himself with charges and allegations,” Dobelle said in his 3-minute video. “He’s always been afforded due process. All I’m asking for is the same due process.”

Dobelle continued by saying he grew up learning to tell the truth, “and the truth shall set you free.”

“I don’t mind criticism, but it has to be fair and it has to be balanced, and it’s been neither,” he said.

The information Dobelle submitted covers a period of five years and arrives in the commissioner’s office just days after Freeland announced he would suspend $197,762 in grants to the university, and recommend the commonwealth suspend a $2 million appropriation for a planned science center because Dobelle failed to file the requested information by last week’s deadline.

“Commissioner Freeland believes that President Dobelle owes Massachusetts taxpayers and members of the Westfield State community answers about the questionable expenditure of public funds,” Katy Abel, a spokeswoman for the Department of Higher Education, said in a statement late Friday.

State education officials say Dobelle and his legal team had ample opportunity to respond to Freeland’s questions about domestic and overseas travel, among other expenditures.

Dobelle’s privately hired spokesman, George K. Regan, said the president needed more time to review and gather information before responding to Freeland.

“President Dobelle hopes for and expects fairness,” Regan said in a statement Monday when Dobelle released his responses to Freeland and the news media. “Commissioner Freeland has already revealed his true political motives by telling the media he had no choice but to believe the allegations against President Dobelle without first taking the time to review this report.”

Regan said Dobelle has found the rush to judgment against him “disturbing and dangerous to the integrity of the due process system.”

“The state should look at the motivations of (board of trustees) Chairman Jack Flynn, who conducted an illegal investigation while also pushing his own agenda,” Regan said. “Both Governor Patrick and Commissioner Freeland should wait until they review the facts before making derogatory statements against a successful and respected university president such as Mr. Dobelle.”

Dobelle’s full response to Freeland’s inquiry along with a video response can be found with this story on Gazettenet.com.

Abel on Monday said Freeland is disappointed that it took so long to receive the response but will give it a “full and fair review.”

“Separately, it is unfortunate that President Dobelle’s personal spokesperson has seen fit to launch negative personal attacks in the course of this conversation,” Abel said in a statement. “The department and Commissioner Freeland maintain that the only issue at hand is assuring the proper administration of public funds.”

As state officials review Dobelle’s explanations of spending on travel to destinations such as London, Vienna, Cuba and San Francisco, trustees along with the faculty and librarians union are preparing for special meetings this week and next to address issues surrounding the spending probe. The union is expected to hold a no-confidence vote on Dobelle.

Meanwhile, Dobelle is requesting his own meeting with trustees to review whether the board violated bylaws and the state’s Open Meeting Law.

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