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Former Pittsfield Mayor to appear at Boston meeting with state education commissioner

PITTSFIELD- Westfield University President Evan Samuel Dobelle and his board of trustees have been summoned to Boston Friday to answer questions about reports of Dobelle using university-related credit cards for personal expenses and costly business travel.

The Westfield University Board of Trustees are under review for not taking any action against the president.

The meeting is scheduled at Massachusetts Board of Higher Education‘s office at One Ashburton Place, 21st Floor at 10 a.m.

Dr. Charles F. Desmond, chairman of the state board of higher education, sent a letter to Dobelle last week seeking review of Dr. Dobelle’s spending of the university’s accounts in violations of university credit card policy and a lack of documentation for Dobelle’s expenses on several cards, according to published reports.

One of the expenses charged was $8,000 for a four-night hotel stay in Bangkok.

Dr. Desmond said he was not reassured by Dr. Dobelle’s written response, in which he claimed that all of the problems were in the past and that the report by the accountants at O’Connor and Drew was shoddy, according to the Boston Globe.

Gov. Deval L. Patrick asked his secretary of education Matthew Malone to look into the matter.

Dr. Dobelle is known as a leading advocate for the liberal arts, a staunch supporter of research and technology, and a passionate advocate of public-private partnerships to spur economic development.

He has always acted as a “visionary” for higher education and defended his spending as part of the goal to get his information and position into the main stream of higher Ed.

He has been honored in the past for his efforts and successes with numerous awards, honorary degrees, and special recognition from service organizations, community-based organizations and advocacy groups, and universities in Hartford and throughout the country.

Dr. Dobelle, a professor of public policy, taught in this field while at Trinity.

He holds bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in education and public policy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a master’s in public administration at Harvard University.


Dr. Dobell was a former mayor of Pittsfield.

He was U.S. Chief of Protocol for the White House in the Carter administration with the rank of Ambassador. His wife Kit served as Chief of Protocol and Chief of Staff to First Lady Rosalynn Carter. He was the treasurer of the Democratic National Committee and National Chairman of the Carter-Mondale Presidential Committee.


Dr. Dobelle was also president of Middlesex Community College in Lowell from 1987 to 1990, where the library is named after him, and president and chancellor of City College of San Francisco from 1990 to 1995.

While president of Trinity College in Hartford, CT (1995–2001), neighborhood renewal reversed declining enrollments.

As president of the University of Hawaii from 2001 to 2004, he backed unifying the system’s campuses, established the Academy of Creative Media, built a new medical school, reformed financial and building practices and strengthened Native Hawaiian programs.

He was also criticized for politicizing the university by endorsing a gubernatorial candidate; cronyism in his hiring of administrators and consultants; paying unusually high salaries to administrators; taking too much credit for the university’s improved enrollment and funding; and lavish spending on travel.

On June 15, 2004 Dr. Dobelle was fired “for cause.” Turnover on the Board of Regents meant that there were no Regents left who had selected him as President.

A few weeks later, as Dobelle prepared to file a lawsuit, the university rescinded the firing as part of a mediated settlement.

Dr. Dobelle agreed to resign from the presidency and not to apply for any other University of Hawaii positions, and the university agreed to a two-year non-tenured research position and a settlement of $1.6 million in cash, a state pension for life, and a fully paid $2 million life insurance policy, and assumed all legal costs of $1.2 million, with no finding of wrongdoing on the part of either Dobelle or the board.


“This report – and your letter – raise serious concerns about the appropriateness of certain expenditures,” Dr. Desmond wrote, asking Dr. Dobelle to appear before the board of higher education on the morning of Sept. 20.

Dr. Desmond added that “We also have concerns about the handling of the O’Connor & Drew findings” by the trustees, some of whom have questioned the legitimacy of the spending review because it was never approved by the full board.

The trustees have not disciplined Dr. Dobelle or taken any public action.

Dr. Desmond sent a separate letter to trustee chairman John Flynn asking the trustees to appear before the board of higher education on the same day as Dobelle.

Dr. Dobelle responded immediately, saying in a letter to Dr. Desmond, “I welcome an opportunity to meet and would be pleased to discuss the appropriateness of the investments identified in the accountants’ report.”

Dr. Desmond told Dr. Dobelle and Mr. Flynn that he expects to be joined at the meetings by Patrick’s Education Secretary Matthew Malone as well as Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland.

One official said the meetings are meant to pressure Westfield State University to take stronger action, according to the Boston Globe.

Dobelle, Westfield State’s president since 2008, has admitted that he sometimes charged personal expenditures on his university credit card as well as on one of his employees’ university cards, plus a third credit card given to him by the foundation that raises private donations for the school.

The foundation canceled Dr. Dobelle’s card in 2010 after he charged more than $200,000 in expenses and helped precipitate a financial crisis at the foundation.

Dr. Dobelle, as well as his trustees, say that changes in expense procedures have eliminated the problem of mingling personal and business expenses.

However, Dr. Dobelle’s spending is now under investigation by both the state inspector general and the attorney general.


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