Dr. Berlowitz, I don’t presume

Leslie Cohen Berlowitz is president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. So grateful was she that former NEH Chairman Jim Leach allowed the spigot to her organization to be turned on again in 2010 while Leach was chairman that Leach was inducted into the academy as a member of the academy that year. Leach warned of “a crisis in the humanities” at the induction ceremony. Leach was not referring to the corruption involved in his induction, but rather to his usual “bridging cultures” hobbyhorse. It was a classic case of logrolling, arts-and-letters style.

It turns out that inducting Leach into the AAAS may not be Berlowitz’s most embarrassing act. The Boston Globe points out in a detailed story by Todd Wallack that Berlowitz has also exaggerated her own academic achievement as part of efforts to win hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funding. In at least two applications for federal grants over the past decade, Berlowitz said she received a doctorate in English from New York University in 1969, a degree NYU said she never earned. The Globe reports:

The academy refused multiple requests to provide a copy of Berlowitz’s resume or biography. Instead, a spokesman referred the Globe to a Wikipedia entry created by her public relations staff member that said she earned her “undergraduate and graduate degrees from New York University and Columbia University” but was vague about specific degrees.

However, she listed the nonexistent degree on at least two successful grant applications with the National Endowment for the Humanities, one from 2003 and another from 2010, that the Globe obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The agency gave the academy $650,000 based on the two grant applications.

The AAAS is still in search of an appropriate public relations strategy to deal with Berlowitz’s phony doctorate. I’m pretty sure this won’t cut it, but you never know:

Berlowitz, a 69-year-old New York native, declined repeated requests for interviews over the past two weeks and refused to meet with a reporter who stopped by the academy Monday morning. The academy referred calls to an outside public relations consultant, Ray Howell, who declined to answer specific questions but issued a general statement Monday evening:

“Neither the academy nor President Berlowitz is going to respond to subjective, interpretive, and gossipy allegations from former employees and unnamed sources,” Howell said in the statement. “Nor are they going to respond to personal questions that are irrelevant, do not belong in the public domain and, frankly, smack of sexism.”

Is the academy against interpretation? It doesn’t require much in the way of interpretation to construe the publicist’s response as an acknowledgement. To those who think that what Berlowitz did was bad, I will only say that inducting Leach after he resumed funding the AAAS is worse.

The Globe adds:

Board members did not respond to requests for comment individually. But the chairman of the board, 91-year-old retired industrialist Louis W. Cabot, and the board as a whole released a statement backing Berlowitz late Monday:

“President Berlowitz has the highest integrity, a record of outstanding achievement, and our unqualified support,” the statement said. “We look forward to her leading the academy for years to come.”

The Globe drily observes: “At other academic institutions, people who fabricate degrees have often faced severe consequences.”

My friend and former AAAS board member Marty Dworkin, a microbiologist with a distinguished career at the University of Minnesota, makes a cameo appearance in the Globe story. The Globe reports that Marty “ultimately concluded Berlowitz should be let go because she treated underlings so harshly.” I think that’s strike three.

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