Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland was in Springfield on Wednesday where he spoke with CBS 3 about the ongoing controversy surrounding Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle.
Freeland said that he supports the Board of Trustee's decision last week to place Dobelle on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into his spending at the university by Boston-based legal firm Fish and Richardson. Freeland says he is not sure personally whether the president can continue to adequately lead the University.
"It is questionable whether President Dobelle can continue to provide the kind of leadership that the institution needs," said Freeland.
Wednesday morning Freeland said the more than $2 million in funding that was suspended from the University a few weeks back will remain that way until a resolution is reached.
"It is not our intention to punish the institution. It is not our intention to punish students. It was our intention to say until this issues is resolved we don't have sufficient confidence in the financial management of the institution to release these funds," said Freeland.
Freeland met with Acting President of Westfield State University Dr. Elizabeth Preston in the afternoon. At that meeting it was decided that a portion of funding would in fact be restored to the University.
"On behalf of the students, faculty and staff of Westfield State, I am very happy to announce the Department of Higher Education will release funding of $195,444 to Westfield State," said Preston. "We appreciate this vote of confidence in our university and especially in our people and our programs. We are eager to move forward with the initiatives this money will fund and to continue the important work of educating students that we do every day."
Dobelle has said he will file a federal lawsuit later this week against both the university board chairman and the trustees. It has been previously reported that Freeland could be a part of that suit as well.
"I will deal with it when it comes. I have tried to do my job as the commissioner of higher education, which is to assure the proper stewardship of state funds. I believe I have done that job appropriately and with integrity," Freeland said. "I have been quite honestly distressed that President Dobelle has chosen to attack those who have raised these questions rather than to answer the questions. I think that's been unfortunate for President Dobelle and unfortunate for the whole system."
Freeland also denied prior allegations that he is interested in taking Dobelle's job.
"I heard I was being accused of lusting after the president's job. I can assure you that is not well-founded," Freeland said. "I was the president of Northeastern University for 10 years. I am currently the commissioner of higher education. I think this is probably my last job. I'm starting to think about spending more time with my grandchildren and that kind of thing so Westfield is a great institution at that's a wonderful presidency but I don't think it is right for me at this time of life."
The results of the investigation by Fish and Richardson are due Nov. 25.
George K. Regan a spokesperson for President Evan Dobelle released this statement to CBS 3 regarding Freeland's comments:
"Commissioner Freeland showed his true colors in that bizarrely crafted letter to the Board of Trustees in which he launched a personal attack against President Dobelle. Mr. Dobelle has always put the interests of Westfield State University before his own. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Commissioner Freeland who left his own post at Northeastern University under mysterious circumstances and has put politics ahead of common sense, fairness and due process."
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