Embattled head of American Academy of Arts and Sciences resigns after questions about resume

5-22-2013, Davis, California. Leslie Berlowitz, President of The American Academy of Arts talks with students and faculty after a speech at the University of California, Davis Wednesday May 22,2013. (Kurt Hegre for The Boston Globe)
Leslie Berlowitz spoke with students and faculty after a speech at the University of California, Davis, in May.Credit: Kurt Hegre for The Boston Globe

The controversial chief executive of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences has agreed to resign on July 31 following reports that she embellished her resume, the institution announced today. She will receive a one-time payment of $475,000 for retirement and other benefits, according to an academy statement, but no severance payment.

Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, who has overseen the 233-year-old Cambridge honorary society for the past 17 years, had been on paid leave from the academy for more than a month after the Globe reported that she falsely claimed a doctorate from New York University and misstated her work history in federal grant applications and other documents over the past decade.

Berlowitz also came under fire for regularly berating staffers, micromanaging the academy’s affairs, barring scholars from viewing the academy’s historic archives, and receiving an outsized pay package—more than $598,000 in fiscal year 2012 alone for an organization with only a few dozen staffers, several times what her peers were paid. Investigators were also examining whether the academy fully reported all her executive perks on its tax returns, such as catered meals, first-class travel, and chauffeured transit to her home.

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The institution said Berlowitz will continue to receive her salary through next week and receive the one-time payment for retirement benefits she is owed under her contract, unused vacation time and other deferred compensation. She will also receive supplemental health insurance for five years.

“The agreement does not call for any severance payment,” academy chairman Louis W. Cabot said in a letter to members. “The agreement has been reviewed by independent legal counsel, and the Board has determined that this agreement is in the Academy’s best interest.”

The academy also said it is launching a search for a new chief executive and the board has appointed a special committee to examine its executive compensation practices.

The controversy has attracted national attention because of the academy’s prestige. Founded by John Adams and other Harvard College graduates during the Revolutionary War, the academy conducts research, holds lectures for members, and annually elects scores of the brightest scholars, artists and leaders every year. Its membership currently includes 50 Nobel laureates and 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.

But academics typically have little tolerance for people exaggerating their educational credentials. Marilee Jones, a popular admissions dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, left in disgrace in 2007 after she falsified her degrees. And Doug Lynch, a vice dean at the University of Pennsylvania, resigned last year after revelations that he falsely claimed to have a doctorate from Columbia University.

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