Westfield State University turns 175; looks past Dobelle scandal

WESTFIELD, Mass. (Westfield News) – Despite his resignation in the fall of 2013, the shadow of former President Dr. Evan S. Dobelle still hung over Westfield State University when the calendar turned to 2014.

With lawsuits being filed on Dobelle’s behalf against members of the WSU Board of Trustees and an ever-increasing amount of media scrutiny descending upon the school, 2014 – which marked Westfield State’s 175th anniversary – was looking to be moribund 12 months.

The University chose instead to aggressively move on, in the form of breaking ground on a new science building, appointing new members to the school’s Board of Trustees and a revitalizing the search for a new president.

In September, the University broke ground on the first new academic building in over four decades, as work began on the school’s new science center, a 54,000-square-foot building that is expected to be completed in August 2016.

The new facility will house laboratory space that will be used by the allied health, biology, environmental science, nursing, and physical and chemical science programs and made possible by a 2008 state revenue bond bill which supplied the $33 million required to construct the facility.

The university is expecting to raise another $13 million to put toward the new building, including $9 million borrowed from the Massachusetts State College Building Authority and a $3 million grant submitted to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center that will go towards purchasing supplement equipment and programming.

“Not only will our new science center contain state-of-the-art classrooms, offices and meeting spaces, but the striking design is sure to be a wonderful addition to the Western Avenue streetscape,” said Interim President Dr. Elizabeth Preston. “Westfield State’s history has been all about blazing new trails that will benefit all of us. This new academic building is just one example of how our historic university is meeting the challenges of the 21st-century.”

Massachusetts Education Secretary Mathew Malone said that the new building will be housing an environmental science department, making it one-of-a-kind in the state higher education system.

“This (Westfield State) is an exciting place to be. The work you guys are doing isn’t just the tip of the spear – it is bleeding edge,” he said. “When you think about what the future looks like, it is the people on this campus who are going to design that.”

The new science center wasn’t the only project that began at the school in 2014, as the board of trustees began a search for a new president in the spring, appointing trustees Steven Marcus and Tirrell Hill to head the board’s Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC), as chair and vice chair.

“Our next leader will bring us to where we need to go,” said Marcus at that time. “This is a great institution, and we will pick the best leader for it. It’s going to be exciting.”

It wasn’t until October that the presidential search was allowed to resume, though, as the board awaited the findings of Inspector General Glenn Cunha’s investigation into the spending scandal that led to Dobelle’s retirement, which was released on July 31.

Scheibel, Marcus and board Finance Committee Chair Kevin Queenin had spoken with various campus leaders at the behest of Preston, regarding their thoughts on the search, consulting with the University’s Vice Presidents as well as union leadership on campus.

Marcus said that campus leadership is “ready to gear up for this presidential search” and wants make sure the search committee chooses a wise leader.

“I think we are ready to move forward. We have a process where the first step is to engage a search firm,” said Scheibel in October. “There is an RFP (request for proposal) ready to go out that will take a month or so to get back in, so there is some time that will be eaten up in the first step.”

“In my estimation, it’s going to be January before that part is completed,” she said of the firm selection process. “I feel very comfortable in saying that this process should grow organically.”

It was also at that meeting that the board’s newest additions – Robert Johnson, Dr. Robert Martin, Madeline Landrau and Dr. Linda Slakey – were introduced and weighed in on the search.

In early December, the PSAC filled out the rest of the roster, appointing Director of Alumni Relations Katheryn Bradford, Director of Career Services Junior Delgado, Student Government Association Member Evelyn Dina, Student Trustee Joshua Frank, Chair of the Ethnic and Gender Studies Department Dr. Margot Hennessy, Chair of Foundation Board Robin Jensen, Administrative Assistant in the Department of Ethnic and Gender Studies Ron’na Lytle, Trustee Luis Perez, Vice President of Student Affairs Carlton Pickron, Board of Higher Education Representative Henry Thomas, BHE and Associate Professor of Mathematics Dr. Edward Welsh, in addition to Hill and Marcus.

Copyright 2015, The Westfield News. All rights reserved. http://thewestfieldnews.com/wsu-turns-175-puts-scandal-rearview

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