June 10, 2024   

AIA Faces Scrutiny Over CEO’s Practices and Decisions

2024 06 AIA ceo under fire dominican republic retreat a.jpg

Current and former leaders accuse CEO Lakisha Ann Woods of misuse and retaliation


Bloomberg has reported a series of serious misconduct allegations against the leadership of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), particularly targeting the organization’s CEO, Lakisha Ann Woods. These allegations, detailed by both current and former AIA leaders, were highlighted during the recent AIA National Convention in Washington, DC.

According to Bloomberg reporter, Kriston Capps, twenty-two past AIA presidents have accused Woods of misusing AIA funds, engaging in nepotism, and retaliating against employees who voiced concerns. A significant point of contention was an extravagant staff retreat to a Dominican Republic resort. The retreat, described by Woods as a necessary morale booster, raised eyebrows due to its high cost amidst the organization’s financial struggles.

The retreat's approval and the manner in which it was booked have been scrutinized. Bloomberg's report states that Woods and her chief strategy officer, Vicky Schneider, allegedly arranged the trip through an events-management company they controlled. While an investigation by the law firm Miller & Chevalier found no wrongdoing, questions about the retreat’s necessity and cost remain unresolved.


Questionable Practices

Bloomberg also reported that Terrence “Terry” Ona, the former chief counsel for the AIA, has filed a lawsuit against the organization. Ona's claims include discrimination, wrongful termination, and defamation. He alleges that his investigation into the retreat and other spending issues led to his dismissal, which he believes was retaliatory and discriminatory. The AIA has denied these claims, asserting that Ona’s termination was justified.

In addition to the Bloomberg report, the The Architect’s Newspaper has chimed in with additional insights into the past presidents’ allegations. According to their report the April 4 letter sent to the AIA Board of Directors raised nine problems including:

  • The "disappearance of [Architect] magazine"

  • An ongoing legal dispute between unnamed high-ranking leadership members

  • The sale of the AIA’s contract documents business

  • Stipends for senior officers

  • Proposed changes to membership bylaws which would allow academics, interior designers, and engineers into the AIA

  • Recent renovations to the AIA HQ at 1735 New York Avenue in Washington, D.C.


Alleged “jury” tampering

Another significant allegation revealed by Bloomberg involves the AIA’s College of Fellows, which bestows the organization’s highest honors. Bloomberg noted that this year’s fellowship selection process was controversial. Kimberly Dowdell, the AIA's current elected president, applied for fellowship status but was initially rejected by the jury. Woods allegedly intervened, asking the jury to reconsider underrepresented candidates, but the decision remained unchanged. Following this, Woods restructured the honors department, leading to the termination of two key staff members, further fueling allegations of retaliation and bias.



The various allegations have prompted multiple investigations, including the hiring of Miller & Chevalier to conduct an independent review. Despite the findings of no immediate action needed regarding the retreat, the AIA continues to face scrutiny. Woods reportedly maintains that all actions taken were within her authority and aimed at benefiting the organization.