Bogus reporter's inquiry traced to Dobelle's phone
A call seeking salary information on a University of Maine chancellor job from someone who claimed to be an intern at a higher-education newspaper actually came from the cell phone of former University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle, the newspaper reported yesterday.
Paul Fain, a reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education, said the external affairs office of the University of Maine called him to respond to a request from a "Scott Northfield," who had claimed to be an intern working on the newspaper's annual executive compensation survey. The caller had wanted details on the salary and benefits of Joseph W. Westphall, who was stepping down as the University of Maine chancellor.
Fain said no one named Scott Northfield works for the Chronicle, and it isn't the time of year for the survey.
According to Fain's story in yesterday's Chronicle, the Maine official who spoke with the caller last week had offered to call back with the information. The caller left a phone number with a Washington, D.C., area code, where the Chronicle is based. But the number was bogus.
At first Fain said he suspected someone at an executive search firm might have been impersonating a newspaper reporter. But when he called the cell phone number left on the university's caller ID system, Dobelle answered.
"When he answered the phone 'Evan Dobelle,' to be honest, I was caught completely off guard," Fain said. He double-checked the information and then called Dobelle back.
Dobelle, now president of the New England Board of Higher Education, told Fain he too had received a call from Northfield about the chancellor's position. Dobelle said he had called the University of Maine to relay the message.
But Maine officials told Fain they did not recall the conversation.
Westphal's $265,426 salary and benefit package is public record, and the story yesterday noted that it is listed on the newspaper's Web site.
Dobelle's Honolulu attorney Rick Fried did not return a call asking for comment. Dobelle was initially fired by the UH Board of Regents in 2004, but after negotiations the firing was rescinded and he was allowed to resign instead.
Fain said Dobelle called him yesterday, questioned the news value of the story and stuck by his explanation. "He definitely felt that it was an unfair story, and he was just trying to relay a message for us and he was kind of a victim in this strange situation."