The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honorary societies, a sort of hall of fame for leading scholars and artists. Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, who has served as the Academy’s president for some 17 years, is now under fire for allegedly having lied about earning a doctorate that does not exist.
The Boston Globe‘s Todd Wallack broke the story today, reporting that Berlowitz has fabricated a 1969 doctoral degree from New York University in federal grant applications. In addition, tucked into the story’s background information is a long record of alleged bullying behaviors toward staff by Berlowitz.
According to the Globe piece, “(s)taff members have long complained that Berlowitz micromanages their work and that she dishes out frequent tongue-lashings. Some workers left after only a few days or weeks.” The article describes a work culture of fear and silence, angry public scoldings of employees, and a revolving door of Berlowitz’s administrative assistants. For example:
Gail Loffredo lasted just 14 days as Berlowitz’s executive assistant in 2012. She said Berlowitz fired her last year after her teenage daughter found a lump in her chest and Loffredo told Berlowitz she needed to take her daughter to the doctor the following week. Loffredo later learned that Berlowitz had gone through as many as five other assistants in as many months.
“She is horrible,” Loffredo said, adding that she regularly witnessed Berlowitz scolding employees in her office in front of colleagues.
Reports of Berlowitz’s treatment of staff go way back. Some of these concerns emerged in a 2003 Globe article that focused on claims of heavy-handed, controlling behaviors by Berlowitz.
Despite these frequent reports, the Academy’s leadership has stuck by Berlowitz, basically rationalizing that her successes in fundraising and program development overcome concerns about worker mistreatment. And when presented with evidence of her fabricated doctorate, the Academy hired a public relations consultant who couldn’t resist playing the sexism card in responding to the allegations. As reported by the Globe:
“Neither the academy nor President Berlowitz is going to respond to subjective, interpretive, and gossipy allegations from former employees and unnamed sources,” [the consultant] 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.”
Bullying in non-profit organizations is a serious problem. During the 15 years that I’ve been studying and writing about workplace bullying, I’ve heard countless horror stories from those who have worked in the non-profit sector, including tales of tyrannical, manipulative bosses who regularly mistreat their staff.
The Academy’s responses to reports of employee mistreatment and, now, a fabricated doctorate, are classic examples of bottom-feeding organizational leadership: First, sweep allegations of workplace bullying under the rug. Second, hire a PR consultant to spin the Academy and Berlowitz into victims.
June 5 Followup
Carey Goldberg of WBUR, a health writer for Boston’s NPR news station, did an extensive interview with me on workplace bullying in the non-profit sector.
July 24 Update
The Boston Globe‘s Todd Wallack reports that Leslie Cohen Berlowitz has resigned her position.