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Iconoclast College President Dobelle On The Carpet

Colleges and UniversitiesThe Boston GlobeTrinity College

When he was president of Trinity College from 1995 to 2001, Evan S. Dobelle showed a real gift for strengthening the school and enhancing its role in the community. His legacy included new buildings, an enhanced global learning program, the championship squash team and, especially, The Learning Corridor, public magnet schools that are a powerful symbol of town-gown partnership and racial integration.

But since he left Trinity, Mr. Dobelle has developed another talent — that of getting himself into hot water.

He got into a kerfuffle as president of the University of Hawaii — where he made solid improvements — over some combination of spending and gubernatorial politics that resulted in his being fired, threatening to sue and winning a big settlement.

Now he's in the soup again, at Westfield State University, west of Springfield, Mass., where he has served as president since late 2007. State officials are looking into possible violations of travel and credit card policies, and making misleading statements to his board of trustees. State officials have frozen some funds intended for the school, and the faculty plans a vote of no confidence.

Officials are looking into travel to many foreign countries that included stays in top hotels and meals in expensive restaurants. Perhaps the most damning allegation involves a trip to San Francisco in which he is said to have visited 11 foundations to seek donations. But the Boston Globe reported this summer that Mr. Dobelle did not, in fact, visit seven of these foundations, but rather had an assistant drop off packets there.

The trustees will meet Oct. 16 to discuss suspending Mr. Dobelle with pay while they investigate further.

Mr. Dobelle insists he's done nothing wrong (there are no criminal allegations) and says his trips were for the school or its students. He has gone into a full-scale counterattack, hiring a Boston public relations firm and well-known Connecticut lawyer Ross Garber.

It may well be a nasty fight in the coming weeks, and that's too bad. As at every other school he's run, Mr. Dobelle has made positive changes at Westfield State and gotten the school much more involved in the community. But at a public university, even a visionary has to watch the bottom line.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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