Patrick administration grills Westfield State University trustees about President Dobelle’s lavish spending

The state’s top higher education official publicly scolded trustees of Westfield State University today for failing to take tough action to rein in controversial President Evan Dobelle despite his “clear and consistent pattern of charging personal expenses in large amounts to a university credit card in clear violation of institutional policy and state ethics laws.”

Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland said “one of the worst moments” in his 40-year education career came in August when he read The Boston Globe’s account of Dobelle’s lavish spending on travel to Asia and other exotic destinations and how he ran up more than $200,000 in expenses on a single university-related credit card.

“This is a sad day,” said Freeland to the Westfield State trustees, who had been called to Boston to appear before the state Board of Higher Education and other Patrick administration officials to answer questions about Dobelle’s spending. “I wish we did not have to be here.”

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Dobelle, a self-described “change agent” who has said that all of his spending was intended to improve the university, is scheduled to appear before the board in a closed session this afternoon.

Freeland strongly questioned Dobelle’s claim that his extensive travel and other expenses have benefited the university, noting that Westfield State has lagged behind other Masachusetts state schools in fund-raising.

Freeland said he was especially worried that the university had to give $400,000 to the university’s fund-raising arm to help it pay its bills, partly because of Dobelle’s extravagant spending from their account.

He noted that the fund-raising organization is supposed to raise funds for the college, not the other way around.

The Patrick administration officials did not tell the Westfield trustees what to do, but they did little to hide their anger at the situation. Board of Higher Education member Louis Ricciardi said that Dobelle’s reaction to the controversy has been “dismissive and offensive,” and called for tougher action by the trustees, who are appointed by Governor Patrick.