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Westfield Trustees Put Dobelle On Paid Leave

Former Trinity College President Under Investigation For Spending at Westfield State University

By KATHLEEN MEGAN, kmegan@courant.com

The Hartford Courant

8:39 PM EDT, October 17, 2013

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The Westfield State University Board of Trustees voted early Thursday morning to put President Evan Dobelle on paid administrative leave until Nov. 25, while a law firm conducts an investigation into his spending.

Dobelle, who led Trinity College in Hartford from 1995 to 2001, has been accused of extravagant spending, as well as possible violations of travel and credit card policies. No criminal allegations have been made.

The law firm conducting the inquiry is Fish & Richardson. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley also is investigating Dobelle's expenditures. State funding to the university has been frozen by Massachusetts State Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, and the majority of faculty members and librarians have voted no confidence in Dobelle.

It's not the first time that Dobelle has clashed with a university board. In 2004, he left his job as president of the University of Hawaii after a rancorous dispute with university officials.

The Westfield trustees announced the suspension at 12:30 a.m. Thursday after a 10-hour meeting. Shortly afterward, Westfield spokeswoman Molly C. Watson emailed a statement that said, "We move forward with renewed dedication to creating a well-rounded, transformative experience for our students while sensitive to the need to preserve the well-being of our campus community — our students, faculty, staff, alumni and so many others who support us."

The Boston Globe reported in August that Dobelle ran up more than $200,000 in credit card charges to the Westfield State College Foundation, a private group that raises money for scholarships and educational programs.

The Globe reported that Dobelle's bills included $8,000 for a four-night stay at a hotel in Bangkok and $10,000 for tickets to shows at Tanglewood.

Dobelle has insisted that he has done nothing wrong, although he admits that on occasion, he accidentally used the university credit card for personal expenses. But he says he has paid back every penny owed.

He told the Globe that his trips and expenditures have been for the school or its students.

An emailed statement from George K. Regan, a spokesman hired by Dobelle, said that the suspension is "an unlawful action" taken against Dobelle.

The statement said that Dobelle's rights "have been violated in such an egregious way that we have no choice but to file a federal lawsuit" against Freeland and the Westfield State University Board of Trustees.

"The Board has defamed President Dobelle … and there will be major consequences to these actions," the statement said. "The bottom line is that an extraordinary amount of money and time has been wasted investigating someone who had self-reported an issue that had been dealt with and should have been resolved years ago."

In Hawaii, Dobelle ran up against the university's Board of Regents, who initially fired him because members believed that he had lied and misused funds. The board eventually rescinded that firing, and agreed in a mediated settlement to accept Dobelle's resignation and to clear him of any wrongdoing.

Dobelle's attorney is Ross H. Garber of Shipman & Goodwin in Hartford.