BOSTON, Mass. (WGGB) — The state’s Higher Education Commissioner has rejected a request from Westfield State’s President for more time to answer questions about spending at the university.
Last week, Department of Higher Education Richard Freeland sent a letter to Dobelle, asking him to address a number of concerns including thousands of dollars spent on personal trips, hotels, and dinners, some on Westfield State credit cards.
Freeland is looking for the school’s President to explain whether funds from the Westfield State Foundation were used indiscriminately, and if various expenses were in violation of the university’s standard of “reasonable and not excessive.”
In that letter, Freeland gave Dobelle a deadline of Thursday, October 3 to respond to his inquiry.
Ross Garber, an attorney representing Dobelle, told ABC40 Thursday that he and his client would have the information and a response to the department by Monday. He added that the department had asked for a lot of information, and Dobelle was continuing work to gather and assemble what was needed for a response.
“Given that we’re making good progress, we told the Department of Higher Education that they would have a response by Monday at the latest,” Garber says.
Dobelle has repeatedly said he confused personal credit cards for school ones and has paid back the money. He maintains other expenses have brought back millions of dollars in “return investment” to the school.
However, late Friday, Katy Abel, spokesperson for the Department of Higher Education, told ABC40 that, “After careful consideration, Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland has rejected President Evan Dobelle’s 11th-hour request for additional time to answer questions prompted by the O’Connor and Drew report and the September 19th letter issued by the Office of the Inspector General.”
Abel adds that Freeland “believes President Dobelle and his legal team have had ample opportunity to respond to these questions. He has had the O’Connor and Drew report for several months and has repeatedly rejected requests to answer these allegations.”
Also Friday, the department announced that it is suspending some funding to the university.
“Given his serious concerns about the administration of state funding at Westfield under President Dobelle’s leadership, Commissioner Freeland has suspended $197,762 in Vision Project Performance Incentive Grant funding to the University, effective immediately,” Abel explains.
Freeland is also asking the state to suspend a $2 million appropriation for a planned science center.
“He urges the President to provide these answers to the public without further delay,” Abel explains.
George Regan, a spokesperson for Dobelle, fired back Friday saying, “Commissioner Freeland’s response is bizarre. But it goes a long way toward revealing the truth about his motives and objectives. Instead of waiting two days for a thoughtful, comprehensive response, Commissioner Freeland thinks he can blackmail the WSU Board by threatening to victimize the WSU students and faculty.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that money is being taken from our school for his personal spending,” student Amanda Thibodeau said.
Most students on campus Friday night say if they weren’t frustrated before, they are now.
“Disappointed honestly. Like it’s a letter,” student Billy Titus said. “You couldn’t get that in to explain what you did? I mean kind of, you know, suspicious. Kind of makes me wonder what he is doing with the money.”
“I feel like if he had anything to cover for himself he would do that right away,” student Kaitlyn Hannan said.
The state says they will work with the school’s Board of Trustees to find an appropriate resolution to resume funding and the board is expected to meet later this month to review the situation.
Dobelle’s spokesperson says that emails will show that this is all a political game being waged at Dobelle’s expense.