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State releases two grants to Westfield State University

WESTFIELD — The acting president of Westfield State University announced Wednesday the state has released $195,444 in previously frozen funding for the school.

The grant money had been frozen by state Higher Education Commissioner Richard M. Freeland after embattled university president Evan S. Dobelle failed to submit an accounting of his spending habits by an Oct. 3 deadline.

In a statement released Wednesday, acting president Elizabeth Preston said, “We appreciate the vote of confidence in our university and especially in our people and programs.

“We are eager to move forward with the initiatives this money will fund and continue the important work of educating students that we do every day,” she added.

Preston was named acting president after the trustees of Westfield State University last week suspended Dobelle for 30 days with pay while his spending practices are further investigated.

In the statement Preston said the decision to release the grant money was made after she met with Freeland on Wednesday.

The Department of Higher Education released two grants to the university — $97,762 will fund a two-year program to develop the school’s Institute for Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, $97,682, will pay for the first year of a three-year program to boost the university’s retention numbers.

The Accounting firm of O’Connor and Drew of Braintree reported that Dobelle and other top officials had violated university policies by charging personal expenses to school credit cards. Dobelle has said he was following past practice and fully reimbursed Westfield for the personal charges.

Dobelle has also responded to criticism that he spent on luxury hotels and restaurants during overseas trips, saying the spending was “strategically planned” as part of a fundraising strategy and brought a significant return on investment for the university.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com .

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