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Liz Preston named interim president after Dobelle retirement accepted by trustees

By Joshua Clark
On December 5, 2013

Dr. Elizabeth Preston has been chosen as the interim president of Westfield State University after the board of trustees meeting on Nov. 25.

Preston has been serving as the acting president since the Oct. 16 meeting when Dr. Evan S. Dobelle was placed on administrative leave.

Dobelle retired from higher education on Nov. 8 after spending twenty-five years as the president of multiple institutions.

Preston was previously the vice president of academic affairs, and was serving in that role while serving in the role of acting president.

Marsha Marotta, dean of undergraduate studies, has been named the acting vice president of academic affairs until the position is filled again.

The ascent to the interim presidency was very quick and relatively unexpected for members on campus.

It was caused by the controversy surrounding Dobelle's spending and the inquiries from the board of trustees, the inspector general, and the attorney general, respectively.

The inquiry from the board of trustees was made public this past summer and has caused negative publicity for the university.

The board of trustees received a report from O'Connor & Drew, the university's accounting firm, accusing Dobelle of spending money frivolously but without malicious intent.

The board accepted their report, however, the inspector general and the attorney general were beginning to launch their investigations.

After the trustees meeting, Richard Freeland, commissioner of higher education, asked him to answer certain questions regarding his spending habits by a definitive deadline.

Dobelle neglected to answer the questions by that deadline, instead asking Freeland for an 11th hour extension, a request that Freeland denied.

In response to Dobelle missing the deadline, Freeland suggested that funding assigned to the new science annex be suspended until he could ascertain that the situation at the university had improved.

Dobelle went on a public relations tour engaging students and faculty on many occasions to try to set his story straight.

At the Oct. 16 meeting of the board of trustees, Dobelle had been put on administrative leave with pay. The board also launched an investigation using all of the facts ascertained up to that point.

Many members on campus predicted this move.

Dobelle's next move was to launch lawsuits against the different players in this whole mess; the executive council of the board of trustees, O'Connor & Drew, and the university itself were some of the plaintiffs of these many cases he launched.

When Dobelle retired, he accused the board of violating his contract by putting him on the leave.

His lawsuits were still kept on the table after his retirement, while Freeland, now assured that the university is back on the right track, withdrew his recommendation and the funds were restored.

Preston seems encouraged as she takes on this new role. In addition to her role as vice president of academic affairs, she served as dean of faculty from 2008 to 2012, and chair of the Communications department from 1995-2008.

Her tenure as acting president begins with funding for many initiatives that the university has been involved with, chief among them the development of the Institute of the Civic Learning and Democratic Involvement and the creation of a student retention survey.

Editor's Note: This article previously stated that Marsha Marotta was named "interim" vice president, but in fact she was named "acting" vice president. This has been corrected.

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