University system gets strange call

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A man masquerading as an intern for a national education magazine called the University of Maine System last week in an attempt to learn how much the soon-to-be-vacant chancellor’s job pays.

He gave a fake name and a fake phone number. The education magazine had never heard of him.

But the deceit is hard to understand since the chancellor’s $265,426 compensation package is freely available public information. It’s even posted on the Web site of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the very magazine the man claimed to work for.

“I would say this is pretty strange,” said Paul Fain, a reporter for Washington D.C-based Chronicle, who wrote a story about the incident for his magazine.

A man claiming to be “Scott Northfield” called the University of Maine System’s external affairs office last week. He said he was an intern working on The Chronicle’s annual survey of executives’ compensation and he wanted detailed information about the salary and benefits given to Chancellor Joseph Westphal.

The Maine official didn’t have the information and offered to call the man back. He agreed and left a number with a Washington, D.C., area code. The number turned out to be fake.

University officials called the magazine directly, only to learn that no Scott Northfield worked there.

At the magazine’s request, Fain said, officials checked caller ID records and found a cell phone number with a Springfield, Mass., area code. Fain called it.

He found Evan Dobelle, a controversial former president of the University of Hawaii who now serves as president of the New England Board of Higher Education.

Dobelle has had an extensive career in politics and education. He served as mayor for several years in a Massachusetts city and in various state and national positions. He led a number of colleges, including Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. He began serving as president of the University of Hawaii in 1991.

But in Hawaii he clashed with university leadership. He was fired in 2004, but a later settlement gave him $1.8 million and rescinded the firing in favor of a resignation. In late 2004, the Hawaii State Ethics Commission said Dobelle failed to disclose as gifts two overseas trips and money from a $200,000-a-year fund, according to The Honolulu Advertiser.

Dobelle could not be reached for comment Thursday. But in Fain’s story and through a New England Board spokeswoman, he denied that he pretended to be Scott Northfield.

He said he did call the University of Maine system, but only to tell them that a Scott Northfield had called his office at the New England Board of Higher Education looking for the chancellor’s salary information. He said he contacted Maine officials to pass on the request.

“That seemed implausible to me,” Fain said.

Maine officials have said they don’t remember Dobelle calling. They only recall Scott Northfield.

Aside from that, Maine officials have little to say.

“It’s really between The Chronicle and Dr. Dobelle,” said John Diamond, spokesman for the University of Maine System.

The Chronicle has no plans to pursue the incident.

Westphal, the Maine chancellor, recently announced plans to leave the position at the end of June. The system’s trustees are looking for an interim leader to start this summer, Diamond said. They will begin the search for a permanent replacement once the interim chancellor is in place.

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