He confesses that an anonymous accusation that he fibbed on his résumé was correct and loses a month's pay as punishment. But the nonprofit organization that took over the zoo from the city remains in a fight for its life without an assured funding source.
A few weeks ago, the Detroit newspapers reported on the discovery of résumé padding by director Ron Kagan of the Detroit Zoo, which is now operated by the nonprofit Detroit Zoological Society (EIN 38-6027356 Form 990). Between John Wisely in the Detroit Free Press and Delores Flynn in the Detroit News we learn that an anonymous letter faxed to about fifteen members of the board questioned Mr. Kagan's doctorate from Hebrew University:
"Two separate sources connected with the Hebrew University have alerted us to information that causes us to question the legitimacy of this claim," according to the letter obtained by the Free Press. "It strongly suggests Ron Kagan does not hold a doctoral degree from Hebrew University. We believe the board should settle this matter by requesting verification of his PhD degree."
Mr. Kagan confessed that he had never received a final sign off on his thesis from one of his two advisors. The board met the following week to consider options including termination and reduction of his pay of $200,000 per year. They decided to punish Mr. Kagan by docking him a month's pay.
Less than a month ago the headmaster of the Gilman School in Baltimore lost his job for misrepresenting his participation in varsity sports in college. We were of the view that the zero tolerance response was primarily out of consideration of a key organizational constituency, parents. That analysis is consistent with the more lenient approach taken in this case (animals are much less vocal about such matters). In addition:
- Mr. Kagan was with the institution longer(fourteen years as opposed to six),
- He had been reappointed to his positions by two mayors following his original hiring by Coleman Young.
- He saw the organization through its transition from a city department to a nonprofit organization.
- As a practical matter, there is much larger pool of potential headmasters than zoo directors, so finding a replacement would likely be difficult and costly.
Nevertheless, there will be consequences of this revelation. The Detroit Zoo is in a difficult position as a nonprofit that until recently was part of city government. In fact, the Form 990 shows that Mr. Kagan receives $83,488 from the nonprofit and $128,531 from the city in base compensation. The institution has some transitional funding from the state, but it is seeking $12 million more this year from a state that is suffering greatly due to the cut backs in the automobile industry.
After than, the zoo hopes to have a proposal on the ballot in 2008 that would add a small amount to the property taxes in three southeast Michigan counties (Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb) to generate about $10 million a year in support. But similar ballot proposals for regional support of cultural institutions like museums have failed before.
In the interim, the zoo is looking for support wherever it can find it, like corporations, but they aren't going to be able to plug a budget gap in the millions of dollars annually.
To run the Detroit Zoo, no Ph.D. is required, but maybe an M.B.A. wouldn't be a bad idea at this point.