Davis quits as Bowie vice president Legal action mulled against official accused of lying about degrees

May 14, 1998|By Tom Pelton and Ivan Penn | Tom Pelton and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Already removed as head of Bowie State University's fund-raising organization, Russell A. Davis resigned yesterday as the school's vice president of student affairs amid accusations that he has been lying about his academic credentials.

Davis, who for six years had been responsible for making sure students completed their degrees, appears to have been falsely claiming a master's and a doctorate in education from the University of Maryland at College Park, university officials said.

The university has no evidence that he earned those degrees, said John Lippincott, the university system's associate vice chancellor for advancement.

Administrators are talking with the attorney general's office to determine whether they have grounds for "further legal action" against Davis for misrepresenting himself when he applied for his job, he said.

Questions about Davis' qualifications arose after The Sun reported Tuesday that he had been selected to clean up financial problems at the Bowie State University Foundation despite a history of personal financial difficulties, including a court judgment that he improperly took $3,873 from another nonprofit group that meets on campus.

Last month, Davis led the foundation in launching a high-profile campaign to raise $10 million in donations for scholarships and campus programs.

University President Nathanael Pollard Jr. held a news conference in the campus library yesterday to introduce Davis' replacements and to reassure donors that the school is doing everything possible to make sure their money is being handled properly.

"Russell Davis had assumed the role of interim director of the foundation during a time of transition," Pollard said, reading a prepared statement to about 100 students and university officials. "However, effective immediately, I have accepted his resignation from the university."

Pollard explained that the university's dean of students, Sandra Dolphin, will fill Davis' position as interim vice president for student affairs. Joyce Romanoff Marx, financial officer for the larger University of Maryland Foundation, has been recommended for Davis' position at the Bowie foundation.

Davis was not available yesterday for comment.

An annual audit of the foundation released by the university last week revealed a number of financial problems at the fund-raising organization during the 1997 fiscal year, before Davis took office.

Among them were the foundation's misspending of $63,869 that should have been restricted for scholarship and campus activity funds, and its improper withdrawal of $34,407 in U.S. Department of Education grant money from an endowment account.

University System of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg ordered an investigation of these problems Tuesday.

In an unrelated matter, police tried but failed yesterday to serve a warrant for Davis' arrest on charges that he violated conditions of his probation by failing to repay Avis Rent-A-Car for an auto he leased in 1991 but did not return.

Still unexplained yesterday was how the university could have hired Davis, a 39-year-old former bank teller from Wilmington, Del., as one of its top officials without verifying his credentials.

Davis, routinely called "Dr. Davis" by students and faculty, may have bluffed the University of Maryland System about a doctorate he claimed he earned from the same university system.

Davis was a rising star, ascending to the position as acting vice president for student affairs in 1992 at the age of 34. His salary level at the university rose accordingly, from $32,000 in 1990 to $82,500 in 1998.

"Didn't anybody check his references? I know that every job I've ever applied for, I've had to prove who I am," said a puzzled Bowie State student Lamont McKinzie, 21, a computer science major from Fort Washington.

This much is known about Davis' academic credentials: In 1982, he earned a master's degree in the arts from Hampton University in Hampton, Va., according to an official in the registrar's office there.

According to Bowie State university records: On Nov. 11, 1988, the university hired him as a counselor in its counseling center; on Sept. 21, 1989, he was hired on a contract as data specialist; on Sept. 4, 1990, he became an adjunct English professor; on Sept. 14, 1990, the university appointed him interim director of its counseling center; on Nov. 25, 1992, former university president Harold Delaney named Davis acting vice president for student affairs; and on Aug. 1, 1994, Pollard, who became president of the university a year earlier, appointed Davis as permanent vice president for student and academic services.

At the news conference yesterday, Pollard said that a search committee selected by university officials in 1994 conducted a "national search" for the best possible vice president for student affairs. Pollard said the top candidate was found to be Davis, already in the job on an interim basis.

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