Westfield State U Donor Pulls Pledge Over Lavish Spending by President

Westfield State University has lost a $100,000 financial gift after the donor expressed dismay over the “lavish spending habits” of university president Evan Dobelle. Specifically, the donor John P. Walsh, president of Elizabeth Grady skin care salons, took exception with expensive hotel stays, limousine rides, international trips and even some purchases for his family that Dobelle billed to the university’s private fund-raising arm over the years.

The spending habits came to light after the Boston Globe obtained copies of a review conducted by the university in the wake of the donation loss. The accountant charged with the task of untangling which of the more than $180,000 in credit card charges run up by the foundation were legitimate and which were not eventually determined that even after months of analysis, he was unable to sort it out definitively.

Although Dobelle paid back about $35,000, according to the review, the repayment came nearly 3 years after the original charges were made and not until the investigation into the spending had commenced.

While Dobelle has accomplished much as president, Walsh said a recent Globe report detailing Dobelle’s expenditures — including more than $500,000 for a celebrity speaker series and $118,000 to travel with a Westfield delegation to Asia — show money being wasted at a school where most students rely on financial aid.

“Authority should be seen as an example of leadership and responsibility, not a way around it,” wrote Walsh, a Westfield State alum whom Dobelle had courted for a donation for years.

According to the Globe’s Andrea Estes and Scott Allen, although Walsh’s reaction to the revelations about the excessive spending was the most dramatic, he was far from the only one to be appalled at Dobelle’s profligacy. Condemnation came even from the very top of the food chain as Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick called on Dobelle to release the entire record of his spending over the period of time he served as university president.

Dobelle has strongly defended his expenditures as part of a plan to boost the school’s “brand,” which he described as “private value at a public price.” Dobelle has admitted he sometimes charged personal expenses to the foundation in his early years as president, but insists he is more careful now.

“I am meticulous about” expenses, Dobelle said in an interview earlier this month, while adding that his work transforming the former teachers’ college into a major university sometimes made him neglectful of details. “When you move about as fast as I do and you’re all about being a change agent, these things can happen.”

Privately, Dobelle has told aides that he has no intention of resigning the $240,920 job he has held since 2008, and that he will present his side at Thursday’s board of trustees meeting where the outside review of Dobelle’s expenditures is expected to be released.