Donor cancels $100,000 gift to Westfield State amid growing controversy over president’s ‘lavish spending’

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A major donor has withdrawn a $100,000 gift to Westfield State University, saying he was “appalled at the lavish spending” by President Evan Dobelle, joining a growing backlash against the school after reports that Dobelle ran up big charges to the school’s private fundraising arm for luxury hotels, limousine rides, and other high-end purchases, including a trip to Asia.

John P. Walsh’s decision to revoke his donation is part of a larger reaction to Dobelle’s spending that is roiling the public university near Springfield just days before students return for the fall semester—a local radio station held a mock fundraiser to send Dobelle to Bangkok where he once spent more than $8,000 of Westfield State College Foundation money for a four-night hotel stay.

A long-awaited review of Dobelle’s spending habits, part of which was obtained by the Globe this week, shows that Dobelle freely mixed personal spending with official business in more than $180,209 in credit card charges billed to the Westfield State College Foundation over a 30-month period. Even after months of analysis, however, the accountant said it was impossible to tell which expenses were legitimate.

Though Dobelle re-paid an estimated $34,854, the review found, some repayments arrived up to three years after the fact—at a time when the accountant had already begun reviewing Dobelle’s expenditures. And some personal charges, the audit found, such as clothing purchases and travel for Dobelle’s wife and son should not have been charged to the foundation in the first place.

“I am hopeful that Mr. Dobelle will either reimburse the college or step down,” John P. Walsh, president of Elizabeth Grady cosmetics, wrote to the Globe in an email explaining his decision to withdraw a $100,000 donation to the foundation, which raises money for scholarships and other educational programs at Westfield State.

Dobelle issued a statement Wednesday night stressing that Walsh never formally pledged the $100,000 gift he’s now withdrawing, but said he should be pleased with the accountant’s review, claiming it found “no personal expenses at issue.”

“I invite Mr. Walsh or anyone else to contact me with any questions they have about” Westfield State, Dobelle said.

On Thursday, the university board of trustees is expected to release a long-awaited review of Dobelle’s spending.

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