Nonprofit boards should learn from Berlowitz scandal
After the Globe published an expose last year about American Academy of Arts and Sciences head Leslie C. Berlowitz, the academy rushed to her defense. A spokesman insisted that evidence that she’d lied about her academic credentials and gamed the system to inflate her own salary at the prestigious Cambridge nonprofit “do not belong in the public domain and, frankly, smack of sexism.”
Now, an internal report issued by the academy after its own months-long investigation more than confirms the charges against Berlowitz, who stepped down last summer. The report, released Monday, showed how vulnerable a small nonprofit like the academy — and hundreds of others across the state — can be to a mischievous leader. And as such, the investigation provides a cautionary example. If anything belongs in the public domain, it’s the story of how Berlowitz boosted her salary by nearly $2.2 million during her tenure.
Indeed, the report ought to be required reading for nonprofit board members, who are often volunteers and may not be on the lookout for bad actors, just as the academy’s former board apparently was not. In outlining how Berlowitz inflated her pay, and intimidated staff members who might have thwarted her, the report provided a case study in how safeguards can break down.
Berlowitz’s abrasive management style was common knowledge for years, and the academy’s former board may have been negligent in allowing her to remain in charge for so long. But if the new report sounds a warning that helps other nonprofits improve their governance, the academy will have performed a public service.