by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.
Author’s program note. Remember Leona Helmsley (1920-2007), widely known as “the Queen of Mean”? She had the great good fortune to marry one of the Great Republic’s richest men, hotelier Harry Helmsley… which she thought conferred on her God’s permission to belittle, disdain, demean, denigrate all the “little people” of her big bath towel empire; oh, and skip taxes, too, a point of view with which the IRS did not concur…
… and so sent her to the pokey where she tried to bribe her cell-mate to do her prescribed tasks. She vowed not repentance (that was definitely for the “little people”) but revenge. And so she left her dog Trouble a twelve million dollar fortune (later reduced as excessive by the court to a mere two million), and so burnished her well-earned reputation as the unchallenged sovereign of gratuitous nastiness, “unchallenged” that is until now, for “Dr.” Leslie Berlowitz, (born 1944), gives even Leona a run for the money and that really is saying something given Madame Helmsley’s mastery of the stinging put-down and designed-to-hurt insult. But even here “Dr.” Berlowitz excels.
The scene of hurtful outrage.
Appalling though this is, you have probably lived every one of your days in complete and total ignorance about the august American Academy of Arts and Sciences, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a comfortable walk from where I am writing you today. It occupies spacious digs on five leafy acres in one of the most desirable areas on Earth, hard by Harvard and its unparalleled ability to lift the hitherto obscure to universal prominence and acclaim. Once there, and not a minute sooner, your invitation to membership in the Academy was sure to be in the next post and so it had gone on since this pantheon of certified worthies was established in 1780 by three of the American Revolution’s greatest leaders, scholar-patriots John Adams, John Hancock, and James Bowdoin.
This was their noble mission, “To cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honour, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people.” Since then, and upon this laudable basis, over 10,000 fellows have been inducted, including Thomas Jefferson, John James Audubon, Washington Irving, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Willa Cather, T.S. Eliot, Edward R. Murrow, Jonas Salk, Eudora Welty, Duke Ellington… whilst among the distinguished foreign Honorary Members you find M. le marquis de Lafayette, Charles Darwin and Alec Guinness. It was an unmatched constellation of the legendary, the immortal, and the merely great and celebrated.
In 1996, “Dr.” Leslie Berlowitz became the Academy’s 45th president, with an endowed chair, the William T. Golden Chair, granted to give the lady a suitably comfortable place to ensconce her embonpoint. Only problem was… as reported by The Boston Globe, June 3, 2013, she had falsely claimed — on documents submitted to federal authorities on grant applications and elsewhere — that she had an earned doctorate in English from New York University, which she certainly did not, according to NYU sources.
But “Dr.” Berlowitz was a woman in a hurry, and she wasn’t about to let lack of a simple sheepskin hold her back. No way! So… she invented a character called “Dr.” Leslie Berlowitz. Here was a woman of consequence who put the actual woman with her comparatively meager credentials in the shade. These included a master’s degree from Columbia University and her duties as an administrator at NYU. There are questions about both of these.
Her master’s from Columbia, absent any subsequent doctorate, suggests what is known in the trade as a “terminal master’s”. Here people who are told they are not doctoral material are given the distinctly inferior consolation prize of the Master of Arts degree and advised to go back to Dog Patch whilst their more favored classmates advance to the eminence of the earned Ph.D. Odds are this is what happened to “Dr.” Berlowitz.
As for her work experience at NYU, it too is questionable and under scrutiny. NYU sources said that what “Dr.” Berlowitz claimed on her resume and the facts do not add up. NYU employment records show that she held a different, lesser job title in one case and held another job for far fewer years than stated in another. It was, in short, a pattern of prevarications, misrepresentations, and deliberate deceits.
On this basis she presented herself as a candidate for President of the Academy and was selected. Incredibly, no one on the selection committee seemed to ask about that all-important doctoral dissertation. She was now “Dr.” Icarus, with her own Daedalus (the Academy’s quarterly journal since 1955), and she flew high… for 17 increasingly dazzling, opulent years.
Item. Her total compensation package for 2012 was $598,000, 3 times what her peers in similar organizations were paid; far more than most college presidents.
Item: She always dined first class as a matter of course, and of course always flew first class, economy being a word she never countenanced.
Item: Her staff kow-towed and catered to her, picking her up at her superb residence overlooking the scenic Charles River, returning her thither of an evening.
It was exactly the life fictional “Dr.” Berlowitz would have had. OK, she must have constantly rationalized to herself, I lied. But I deserve everything I got. I earned everything. This must have been her constant belief, refrain, and creed. As such it certainly trumped the petty fact that she was every single day living a lie. Results, after all, were more important than mere honesty and integrity. And it must be said, she was a titanic worker, the ultimate micro-manager.
As such she had two key constituencies crucial to her success: her board of directors and her staff. She succeeded brilliantly with the first and miserably with the second… and herein lies the crux of the matter, the reason “Dr.” Icarus has fallen and will fall further.
The Board of Directors, seduced, enfeebled, hobbled, clueless.
In theory the designated CEO of any nonprofit organization is subservient to the Board of Directors. In practice, however, every CEO works overtime to ensure that the Board of Directors is subservient to her. This ensures her power, her position and, most important, her pay and perqs. Here “Dr.” Berlowitz excelled as we can easily see. When, for instance, a “palace revolution” brought on by staff complaints of her abusive and abrasive treatment almost brought her down just about one year after her appointment, the Board sustained her… and “Dr.” Berlowitz got the message: romance the Board morning, noon, and night. It worked.
So did doing everything possible to ensure her board candidates were elected… Thus when the current scandal broke, the Board was her poodle… immediately issuing a statement of unqualified support; only very slowly and with obvious reluctance distancing themselves from the “Dr.” who had catered to their every wish and whim… something the Board had valued above all, including the humane values they were in business to promote.
“Dr.” Berlowitz would take care of everything, and if a few of the “little people” complained, well, you can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs. And so we arrive at the “little people”, the Academy’s staff, in constant turnover humiliated, ignored, angry, aggrieved., resentful, smoldering. Their moment in the drama has now arrived…
Right from the time when The Boston Globe broke the first news it was obvious that Academy staff past and present, with their appalling stories of how mauled and mistreated they were, would be a factor as important and influential as her misuse of a non-existent doctoral degree. And here “Dr.” Berlowitz did herself in, treating the staff with constant disrespect, no day complete without its hurtful quota of abuse, snide commentary and disparagements, all public, all played out before their colleagues. Thus did the malice and contempt of “Dr.” Berlowitz turn the ancient Academy into a snake pit of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear.
In this pernicious environment, “Dr.” Berlowitz, micro-manager, ruled all. Not a paper left her office that she had not seen. Thus, when she claimed that her negligent staff was responsible for the misuse and misstatement of her bogus credentials, there was a gasp of disbelief at the Academy; the “doctor” had brass, no doubt about it. She had spent decades lying; if one more lie, more or less, was necessary to prevail at this crucial moment in her dissembling career, so be it.
This time, however, the lady is sore beset on all sides… by past and present staff who have bided their time and are tumbling over themselves to tell the now attending media about their particular woes… by Board members who begin to see how to get peace and quiet they enabled their creature to outrage their core values and the clear mission of the Founders… and by state and federal authorities set to discover whether and how “Dr.” Berlowitz broke the law and may be deserving of a punishment long days coming. All that will come out in the wash as further details emerge.
For now her petted directors have put her on leave, whether with her bloated stipend or not was not announced. “Dr.” Berlowitz, of course, will fight, and pertinaciously, too, for every penny and privilege until her effete Board says, “basta”, whereupon Miss Berlowitz, as the world will then know her, will no doubt take a copy of her book on management and climb the great steps of Harvard’s Widener Library, there to read from her business insights found in her deliciously titled tome ,”Restoring Trust in American Business”: Then to belt out Sophie Tucker’s anthem for brassy dames everywhere, dames who will do anything, absolutely anything to prevail.
It’s “Some of These Days”, first recorded in 1911. Go now to any search engine and listen to these acid lyrics, perfect for Miss Berlowitz and her affecting case of chagrin and rue :
“Some of these days/ You’ll miss me, honey/Some of these days/ You’re gonna be so lonely.
You’ll miss my hugging/ You’ll gonna miss my kisses/ You’ll gonna miss me, honey/When I’m far away…
Gonna miss your big fat mamma, yo’ mamma/ some of these days.” It might even work…