Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle has followed through on his threat to sue over his conflict with school and state officials. Dobelle is suing the university, three board members, Massachusetts’ higher education commissioner and others.
Westfield State’s board put Dobelle on paid leave last week and ordered a new investigation into allegations of inappropriate spending.
In a federal lawsuit, Dobelle says various defendants engaged in breach of contract, defamation and civil conspiracy. It says Jack Flynn, Westfield State’s board chair, “attack(ed)…Dobelle” while engaging in “cowboy tactics.”
Dobelle accuses Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland of “extortion intended to force the board to fire…Dobelle” when the state suspended some funding for the university.
And the suit says Dobelle’s reputation, contract and due process rights were casualties in what it calls “Freeland and Flynn’s guerilla war for control of the university.”
He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
A spokesperson for the state’s office of higher education, Katy Abel, says it has not been served with the lawsuit. But she says the complaint appears to be “yet another distraction from the issue of whether state funds were used inappropriately.”
A spokesperson for Westfield State University, Molly Watson, wrote in an email, “No comment at present.”