State orders Westfield State University to release audit results within 30 days
WESTFIELD — Gov. Deval Patrick on Friday called for the results of an audit of the spending habits of Westfield State University President Evan S. Dobelle to be made public within 30 days.
Patrick’s instruction comes days after press reports that Dobelle spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from the university and its private foundation on travel and for other purposes.
In a letter Friday to university Board of Trustees Chairman John F. Flynn III, Secretary of Education Matthew Malone ordered Flynn to immediately brief him and Department of Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland on the results of the audit and make the results public within 30 days.
South Hadley state Rep. John W. Scibak said it is in everyone’s interest to release the results as soon as possible. “President Dobelle has said he’s done nothing wrong, so there should be no objection to releasing the audit,” he said.
The Board of Trustees commissioned the audit last fall at a cost of $58,000.
“Since $58,000 in taxpayers’ dollars went into investigating it, I think the public and taxpayers have a right to know the results, and sooner rather than later,” Scibak said Friday. “If you wait the full 30 days, it just leads to more questions.”
University spokeswoman Molly Watson said the board will meet Aug. 29 and will “review the accounting firm’s review of travel at that time.” Neither Dobelle nor any member of the university’s Board of Trustees were available for comment Friday evening.
Malone, who wrote that he was issuing the instructions at Patrick’s behest, said both he and the governor have been concerned about “the limited accountability of public universities for their expenditures.”
“The recent press reports about the use of university funds by President Evan Dobelle have again raised these concerns,” Malone said. “As I am sure you appreciate, the issues reported both call into question the proper use of taxpayer funds, and also undermine the good and important work taking place on your campus and public campuses across the state.”
The Boston Globe’s report on his spending, published Sunday, sparked disappointed reactions from locals, including state Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington.
In his first two years at the university, Dobelle used a Westfield State Foundation Inc. credit card to charge $200,000 for traveling, including a trip for 10 staff members to Asia, and other items including a $935 dinner and a $900 round-trip limousine ride to New York City, according to the Globe. When the foundation took away the credit card, he allegedly used his assistant’s university credit card for other charges and did not always pay them off promptly.
Some school staff have defended Dobelle’s spending, echoing his own statements that the money was used to expand the school’s international programs, improve town-gown relations, increase donor contributions and to otherwise raise the university’s profile.
Since Dobelle became president in 2007, the university has seen a 60-percent increase in alumni giving, an 83-percent increase in donor dollars for capital projects and an 89-percent increase in federal grants, according to Dobelle’s website. Its international exchange program generates approximately $3 million in annual revenue, according to the university.
Watson said reviews of “operating practices” are routine at Westfield State. “If a concern does arise, steps are taken to address it responsibly, seek professional counsel as appropriate, and put a plan in place to negate or minimize any recurrences,” she said in an email to the Gazette Friday.
“All Westfield State University financial transactions are made with the goal of advancing the university’s mission and in accordance with university’s strategic plan,” she said. “A detailed budget approval process ensures regular review of expenditures and guidelines for any necessary corrections.”
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.