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Editorial: Sen. Knapik’s switch to higher ed

JERREY ROBERTS
Sen. Michael Knapik waves tto the crowd during the 61st annual Holyoke St. Patrick's Parade Sunday.

JERREY ROBERTS Sen. Michael Knapik waves tto the crowd during the 61st annual Holyoke St. Patrick's Parade Sunday. Purchase photo reprints »

State Sen. Michael R. Knapik is following a well-worn path from Beacon Hill to a job in public higher education. The 50-year-old lawmaker steps down Friday as representative of the 2nd Hampden Hampshire District to begin work Monday as executive director of advancement at Westfield State University.

That will put him in charge of fundraising and community relations for WSU President Evan S. Dobelle. It gives Dobelle a Beacon Hill insider when it comes time to lobby for Westfield State’s budgetary needs.

One of only four Republicans in the Senate, Knapik has represented his district, which includes Easthampton and Southampton, since 1994. He lives in Westfield and has been a big supporter of Westfield State, where both his wife and his parents earned degrees. In addition to a shorter commute, Knapik will get a raise: The new job pays $110,000 — $26,000 more than he earned as a senator last year.

Knapik easily meets the posted qualifications for the job — a bachelor’s degree and five or more years of experience in university advancement or equivalent experience in political campaigning, charitable organizations or business development.

Knapik says he saw the job as a chance to “change career track but stay in the public sector.” He praises Dobelle for making Westfield “one of the most dynamic higher education institutions in the state.” The former state college is gearing up to celebrate its 175th anniversary this fall.

Westfield State University’s star has risen under Dobelle the past five years. Knapik noted that the college is now attracting 60 percent of its student body from beyond western Massachusetts.

What Knapik needs to be concerned about, going into this job, is the other attention Westfield and Dobelle are receiving — from the state inspector general’s office. The commonwealth’s fiscal watchdogs are reviewing results of an audit completed in October 2012.

School trustees spent $50,000 of university funds on the audit, which Dobelle described as a routine review following implementation of new travel policies last year. The results have not been made public, which has prompted protest from faculty.

That drew the attention of the inspector general’s office, which asked for a copy along with drafts and notes and documents related to “travel, paid leave, employee expenses and reimbursement.”

In his role as a fundraiser for Westfield State, Knapik is not going to want the burden of an audit report that spells out misuse of university funds.

Knapik’s announcement this week set off a scramble among candidates likely to run for the office is a special election later this fall. Easthampton Mayor Michael Tautznik, a Democrat, and state Rep. Donald F. Humason Jr., R-Westfield, have both announced. Others are reportedly considering a run. Tautznik announced this year he will not run for a ninth term as mayor. Humason has represented Westfield in the House for 10 years.

Knapik has a reputation of paying attention to community needs. He worked to secure funds for the Manhan Rail Trail and partial funding for the new Easthampton High School. Tautznik says Knapik sets “quite a high standard for serving constituents.”

Knapik has also been willing to work with Democrats to get bills passed and projects done. He told the Gazette: “I think the answers to the problems of the 21st century don’t lie along party lines.”

We hope voters in the district can find a successor who puts solutions ahead of party and sets a top goal of serving his or her communities.

There are troubling reports of a stench coming out of Westfield State University regarding President Dobelle's use of travel funds. Do state taxpayers really need to be paying for Dobelle's family to go on junkets to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and other trips? Also disturbing is the "nationwide search" for the best and brightest talent which more and more leads back to well-connected Beacon Hill pols who are looking to fatten up their public pensions as they lick the plate.

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