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Mass. Higher Ed Commissioner Slams Report On Westfield State President

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WESTFIELD, Mass. (AP) — The state’s higher education commissioner says it’s “highly questionable” whether Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle should keep his job because of concerns over his spending and attacks on his critics.

Richard Freeland said in a letter Friday to Westfield State trustees that Dobelle has damaged the reputation of the state’s public universities.

“I am outraged by the reckless manner in which the president is placing at risk all that so many responsible educators and public officials, including the board, the faculty and staff of Westfield State, have worked for,” Freeland said.

Freeland rejected a 20-page report Dobelle submitted Monday to justify travel and entertainment costs that Dobelle has said benefited the university. Freeland said it still does not answer his questions, or provide enough detail about the questioned spending.

Freeland froze state funding to Westfield State last week after Dobelle missed a deadline for the report.

Only the trustees have the power to discipline or fire Dobelle. They are to meet Wednesday, and Freeland said he plans to attend.

Dobelle’s spokesman, George Regan, said Freeland’s letter is part of a well-coordinated political “smear campaign.”

“Commissioner Freeland’s absurdly angry letter to the Board of Trustees at 6:30 pm on a holiday weekend is part of a well coordinated public relations attack to mask political agendas,” Regan said in a statement. “President Dobelle has had nothing but stellar evaluations until the current smear campaign.”

Westfield State’s auditors reported in August that Dobelle and other top university officials violated travel and credit card policies. There was no allegation of fraud, but auditors said expense record-keeping was poor.

Dobelle has led Westfield State for six years. He has said the spending was “strategically planned” and brought a significant return on investment for the university. He said any improper personal expenses were unintentional and were repaid and the use of credit cards followed past practices that have since been changed.

Freeland told Westfield State trustees at a state Board of Higher Education meeting last month that Dobelle’s travel spending showed “a pattern of seemingly excessive and indulgent personal and professional expenses.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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