Real Estate

Probe Targets Misconduct Claims at American Institute of Architects

AIA faces misconduct probe as 22 past presidents accuse CEO of misuse and financial mismanagement.

By Doug Elli

6/10, 14:36 EDT

Key Takeaway

  • Twenty-two past presidents of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) have accused CEO Lakisha Ann Woods of misconduct, prompting an external investigation.
  • Controversies include a staff retreat in the Dominican Republic and disputes over the selection process for AIA's College of Fellows honor.
  • Former chief counsel Terrance Ona has filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination and wrongful termination after accusing Woods of misconduct.

Allegations Rock the American Institute of Architects

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), a cornerstone of the architectural profession, is currently embroiled in controversy following allegations of misconduct and retaliation against its leadership. Twenty-two past presidents of the AIA have signed a letter accusing CEO Lakisha Ann Woods of misusing her office for personal gain and aiding her allies. Woods has denied these claims, asserting that her actions were in the best interest of the organization. The AIA board has retained an external law firm to investigate these allegations, which include a contentious all-staff retreat in the Dominican Republic and the controversial selection process for the College of Fellows honor.

Controversial Retreat and Financial Scrutiny

One of the primary points of contention is a recent all-staff retreat held at a Punta Cana resort in the Dominican Republic. Woods has defended the trip, stating that it was budgeted in collaboration with Marriott, and that the accrued Marriott Bonvoy points would benefit the AIA. However, the organization is facing annual deficits in the millions, raising questions about the appropriateness of such expenditures. An investigation cleared Woods of booking the retreat through her own events management company, but the scrutiny over financial management remains intense.

Selection Process Under Fire

The AIA's selection process for its prestigious College of Fellows honor has also come under fire. Kimberly Dowdell, the first Black woman elected as president of the AIA, was rejected for the honor in February, prompting Woods to call for a reevaluation of the selection process to better represent underrepresented groups. Despite these efforts, Dowdell was still rejected, leading to a reorganization of the awards department and a proposed bylaw change to grant automatic honors to elected board members. This proposal was met with significant backlash from rank-and-file members and was ultimately not adopted.

Broader Implications for Professional Organizations

The turmoil within the AIA highlights broader issues facing professional organizations, particularly around governance, transparency, and inclusivity. The allegations against Woods and the subsequent investigation underscore the importance of ethical leadership and financial accountability. Moreover, the controversy surrounding the College of Fellows selection process reflects ongoing challenges in ensuring diversity and equity within professional honors and recognitions. These issues are not unique to the AIA and resonate across various industries, emphasizing the need for systemic reforms.

Management Quotes

  • Lakisha Ann Woods, CEO of the American Institute of Architects:

    "The benefits will be used for the AIA."
    "I believe [the investigation] will ultimately vindicate me."