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Suspended Westfield president sues trustees

BOSTON — Suspended Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle has filed a federal lawsuit against university trustees and the state’s higher education commissioner.

In the lawsuit, Dobelle alleges trustees conspired to damage his reputation and violate his rights by investigating and suspending him amid criticism that he charged personal expenses on university credit cards and spent lavishly on foreign travel. The action, filed Thursday in Springfield, had been expected.

The officials had previously denied Dobelle’s allegations.

The trustees placed Dobelle on paid leave last week and hired a Boston law firm to investigate his spending, which he has said benefited the university. A report is due by the board’s Nov. 25 meeting.

The lawsuit refers to Dobelle as a “visionary in higher education” who was dedicated to the best interests of the university and its students.

A spokeswoman for Westfield State declined to comment.

In the lawsuit, Dobelle names the university, three trustees and state Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland.

“At age 68, Dr. Dobelle’s long-celebrated career has been swiftly, unjustly and perhaps irreparably damaged,” the lawsuit says, portraying Dobelle as a victim of a “guerrilla war for control of the University.”

The lawsuit alleges, among other charges, breach of contract, defamation and civil conspiracy.

On Wednesday, Freeland said he hoped Dobelle’s situation would be resolved by a negotiated settlement or action by the trustees.

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