Embattled Westfield State University President Dobelle announces he is retiring

Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle is pictured at the University in Westfield, MA on Wednesday, August 14, 2013. Dobelle is under fire for lavish spending of public money on trips, personal expenses, alcohol, and questionable expenditures. (Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe)
Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle
Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe

Embattled Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle announced today that he is retiring immediately, abruptly abandoning his effort to keep his $240,000-a-year job amid controversy over his lavish spending of university resources.

Dobelle, who ran up more than $200,000 in expenses on a single university-related credit card, already had been suspended with pay while a law firm hired by the university’s board of trustees investigated his spending habits. The law firm was scheduled to report its findings by Nov. 25.

Dobelle had vowed to fight for the job he has held since 2008, filing a federal lawsuit against the trustees and accusing the board chairman of conspiring to destroy his reputation.

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But Dobelle’s public relations firm released a statement around 5 p.m., announcing that he is stepping down immediately for the good of the university. He said he felt compelled to resign because the board violated his contract by placing him on paid leave.

“Of course, this was not my chosen path at this particular time,” Dobelle wrote to the trustees. “It is instead the result of the University’s actions and failure to abide by the terms of my contract. Included among these actions is the so-called ‘administrative leave’ on which I am currently placed, which is not permitted by my contract and has the effect of making it impossible for me to do my job. By unilaterally changing the terms and conditions of my employment, the University has led me to take this action.”

Dobelle received no severance or other payments from the university in exchange for his retirement, though he will be eligible for a state pension of about $90,000 a year. Dobelle had been trying to negotiate a financial settlement with Westfield State, but trustees earlier this week rejected Dobelle’s proposal that he receive six months pay and the title president emeritus in exchange for his resignation.

A spokesman for Dobelle said Dobelle plans to continue his lawsuit against the trustees as well as state Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland. Freeland had frozen some state funding to Westfield State because he was so concerned about Dobelle’s spending on exotic travel, high-end restaurants, luxury hotels, limousines and other questionable purposes.