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Westfield State Names Interim Leader While Dobelle is on Paid Administrative Leave

Dobelle Folo Pic for Ray

WESTFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) — Faculty, students, and staff at Westfield State University continue their work Thursday, just hours after the Board of Trustees placed President Evan Dobelle on paid administrative leave.

The Board made the decision after a nearly 11-hour long meeting Wednesday, that went into the early hours of Thursday morning.

After being in executive session for most of that time, John Flynn, chairman of the Board of Trustees, announced that Dobelle will be on leave, pending the outcome of a second investigation into his spending.

That second look at the records, which will be done by Boston-based law firm Fish and Richardson, should be done by late November.

Until that is complete, Dobelle will not be leading the Westfield State community.

University spokesperson Molly Watson added Thursday that “In accordance with the job description for the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Elizabeth Preston will serve as Acting President of Westfield State University in the absence of the president.”

Preston will continue in her role as Vice President of Academic Affairs, while also assuming the day-to-day operations of the campus.

Preston released a statement Thursday to faculty and staff, saying, “I have been at Westfield for two and a half decades; I know us to be an extraordinary group of individuals, dedicated to giving our best to the institution. We share a deep and abiding commitment to the mission of the University and to our students. That passion for the institution has resulted in heated debate over the past few weeks but is also a source of strength for us as we wrestle with the challenges we now face. Our 175th anniversary likewise serves to remind us both of our achievements and the long and rich history on which they are built. Together, We are Westfield!”

State Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland, who had asked Dobelle for an explanation of his spending, also says in a statement: “The Westfield Board of Trustees has taken a significant and necessary step towards restoring the faith and confidence of both the Westfield State Community and the general public in stewardship of the university.”

While a step in the direction, Freeland’s concerns at Westfield have not gone away overnight. He suspended nearly $200,000 in funding, and has recommended that the state withhold more funding, that was allocated for a new academic building on-campus.

The situation regarding that funding is still in flux pending the outcome of this situation.