AAAS Leader Falsely Claimed Doctorate on Grant Proposals

Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is under fire for academic fraud.


Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is under fire after discovery that she lied about having a doctorate on at least two government grant proposals.

NYT (“Arts and Sciences Academy Defends Leader’s Honesty“):

 The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the prestigious 233-year-old scholarly society in Cambridge, Mass., said on Tuesday that it is standing behind its president, Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, after accusations that she had falsely claimed on at least two grant proposals to have a doctorate.

The accusations, reported in The Boston Globe on Tuesday, sent shock waves through intellectual circles in Cambridge and beyond, along with speculation that a leader who has long weathered criticism about her sharp-elbowed management style might be out the door.

But a spokesman for the academy, Ray Howell, said that Ms. Berlowitz had never claimed to have earned a doctorate, and blamed the mistakes on “an iteration of her résumé created at the staff level.”

“Her official résumé on file with the academy does not contain the inaccurate information,” the statement continued. “President Berlowitz takes full responsibility for the error, and the academy is working to correct the information with relevant funding agencies.”

In a separate statement, Louis W. Cabot, the chairman of the academy’s executive board, said Ms. Berlowitz had the board’s “unqualified support.” He added, “We look forward to her leading the academy for years to come.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities received at least two grant applications, in 2003 and 2010, listing Ms. Berlowitz as having received a doctoral degree from New York University. The grant applications — including one signed directly by Ms. Berlowitz — were obtained by The Globe under the Freedom of Information Act and were posted on the newspaper’s Web site, along with another document prepared by the academy that also repeated the claim.

James Devitt, a spokesman for N.Y.U., confirmed that Ms. Berlowitz, 69, who holds a master’s degree in English from Columbia, was enrolled in N.Y.U.’s Ph.D. program from 1967 to 1978, but the university had no record of her having received a doctorate.

Ms. Berlowitz arrived at the American Academy in 1997 as its executive officer, following a 27-year career at N.Y.U., where her most recent title had been vice president for institutional advancement. In 2010, she became the academy’s president, previously an unpaid position held by a distinguished scholar. Her total compensation for the fiscal year ending March 2012 was more than $598,000, according to Internal Revenue Service filings. She did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

This is bizarre all around.

First, of course the lie was intentional. How does one inadvertently claim a doctorate? Why would there be “an iteration of her résumé created at the staff level” that falsely claims she has a doctorate? It just doesn’t add up. Further, the BoGlo story makes it clear that she continually lied about many aspects of her career.

Second, why would a scholarly society hire someone who spent nine years in a PhD program and failed to actually complete it as its head? There isn’t exactly a PhD shortage.

Third, what in the world does the AAAS president do that’s worth $598,000? That’s more than most college presidents make.

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James Joyner
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  1. CSK says:

    Berlowitz doesn’t appear to have written any books or articles, although she did co-edit two books. It would seem that a distinguished scholar should be making a greater contribution to scholarship than that.

    I’m also pretty sure NYU awards Ph.Ds rather than D. Phils, which is what Oxford awards. And most people who have Ph.Ds list the title of the dissertation on their CVs.

    I just glanced quickly at her resume, but it appears she was more of a mid-level administrator at NYU than anything else.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: Yes. She’s essentially a career fundraiser.

  3. roger says:

    Maybe it is time for a Stolen Diplomas Act?

  4. James Joyner says:

    @roger: Ha. Claiming false degrees in order to obtain money is black letter fraud. Given that she defrauded the federal government here, one wonders if there is criminal sanction.

  5. Latino_in_Boston says:

    All good questions. It’s amazing that anyone is standing behind her.

  6. CSK says:


    It’s amazing she was hired at all. Didn’t the article point out that her predecessors–actual scholars of distinction–were unpaid?

    It’s possible she’s a genius at fundraising, but how did the academy justify that nearly $600,000 per year salary?

  7. rudderpedals says:

    I did a double take but realized this AAAS is != the American Association for the Advancement of Science AAAS, publishers of Science.

  8. John Peabody says:

    I’m convinced it was the work of low-level workers in Cincinnatti.

  9. James Joyner says:

    @rudderpedals: Yes, this is the publisher of Dædalus.

  10. DA says:

    Why would there be “an iteration of her résumé created at the staff level” that falsely claims she has a doctorate?

    This is probably very easy to explain. I haven’t ever applied to NEH, but I apply to NSF all the time. If the applications are similar, then a CV for each of the principal investigators and senior personnel on the grant application is required, in a very specific format. It is entirely plausible that she instructed her staff to put her CV into the required format, and that given her position, perhaps the staff assumed that she had earned a PhD. Of course, she should still review anything that gets submitted with her name on it.

  11. Gromitt Gunn says:

    If it is just these two instances where it happened, I could see that as a honest mistake on the part of the grant writer. The fact that she was in a Ph.D. program for that long means that it is probably on her Resume / CV to account for that period of time (as having attended, not as having graduated), and I could see a grant writer that wasn’t familiar with Ms. Berlowitz (either a new staff member or an intern or contracted grant writer) assuming that being the program that long resulted in a degree.

    I just don’t see two times in an 8 year period constituting a pattern of intentionally fraudulent behavior.

  12. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Given that she defrauded the federal government here, one wonders if there is criminal sanction.

    Now whatever the merits of the case this is just silly. Nobody who was ever involved in academia can reasonably believe that a Ph.D. by the administrative head of the grantee could have had any significant influence on the outcome of a grant application.

  13. Christopher Robinson says:

    Case of the BAD ABD

    The military has now criminalized false claims. Academia can not tolerate similar dishonesty.

  14. JK says:

    @DA: But the staff would not have made up a PhD out of whole cloth. They would not have assumed an institution and a year. The application clearly stated D.Phil – NYU – 1969. If a staff member transcribed 1969 as 1979, that would be a credible staff-level error. Making up a degree, institution, and year is not. Besides, the Globe articles make it clear that she was the consummate micromanager, vetting every piece of paper that left the building.

  15. JK says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius: You’re wrong. The PhD is the prerequisite for even getting the application reviewed. It appears she cleared that hurdle by lying. If it didn’t matter, she wouldn’t have done it and risked her career. Does that mean her proposal was without merit? No. Did she use fraudulent means to clear the first hurdle to federal funds? It appears so. We all have to play by the rules.

  16. Jesus Christ says:

    there is no way at all that the staff made that up. she micromanaged them to death. and nothing left or leaves that place without her going over and editing it.
    She is a lowlife, as low as they come, this is the least of her transgressions. She is a Fraud, a Liar, an Evil person who should be thrown in Jail and made to pay back all her earnings from that place. The board should be disbanded and replaced with new blood, not that old crotchety type that has run that place for so long and let her get away with the things she’s done.

  17. Christopher Robinson says:

    The Boston Globe for June 18 reports that this academic fraud bypassed the normal procedure
    to have herself made a member of the Academy by slipping her name onto the official notice at
    the last minute.

  18. John_hammer says:

    come to think of it, the COO for this institution has been here before. One of his last positions, his CEO had to either step down or was fired for stealing money from the company i believe. This person should be investigated as well. they should also look into that special PO/invoice number used to hide away Leslie’s extra purchases of personal toys and excursions. hmmm… Karma is a Bitch isn’t it?