Higher Ed Commissioner Suspends Westfield State Funding Over Dobelle Controversy

Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland is upping the ante in his standoff with Westfield State University over questionable spending by the school’s president. Freeland’s office announced Friday evening that he is suspending some of the university’s funding.

An audit found that Westfield State’s Evan Dobelle spent excessively over the course of his presidency on travel using university credit cards.

Dobelle has paid back some of the money, but state officials recently pressed Westfield’s board to take action, and pressed Dobelle to explain his spending. Dobelle asked for more time to get his response ready.

On Friday evening, Freeland said no, and then he halted nearly $200,000 in state funding. He will also recommend the state suspend $2 million more for a planned science center on Westfield’s campus.

In a statement, Freeland’s office hints at a way out of this problem for the university. He will work with Westfield’s board to find an “appropriate resolution” that would allow the release of the money.

In a statement, Dobelle’s private spokesperson calls Freeland’s note “bizarre.” The spokesperson says Freeland is trying to “blackmail” the board by threatening to victimize students and faculty.