DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Despite apologizing for misallocating $31,000 from a scholarship fund, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson was given SMU’s highest alumni honor earlier this month in a private ceremony in Washington D.C.
Johnson was originally scheduled to receive the award at a ceremony held last October, but backed out due to scheduling conflicts, SMU officials said. Though Johnson is still recovering politically from the scandal, SMU said that it in no way influenced the decision to reschedule the ceremony.
“She was honored for a lifetime of achievement and recognition, and was selected for the award before [the scandal] happened,” said Stacey Paddock, SMU’s executive director of alumni giving and relations. “We were very excited to give it to her.”
The October announcement that Johnson would not be accepting the award came only weeks after the Dallas Morning News reported that Johnson had violated scholarship eligibility rules with money allocated to her office from the Congressional Black Caucus.
Johnson awarded $31,000 of the scholarship money to her own grandchildren and the children of her top Dallas aide, violating nepotism rules. Johnson further violated rules when she requested the money be given directly to those individuals instead of to an educational institution.
Johnson later admitted she made a mistake and repaid the $31,000.
The ceremony, which was part of SMU’s Second Century Campaign D.C. kick off, was held June 1 at D.C.’s Newseum.
Nearly three weeks after the presentation, SMU had not announced the award on its website, the alumni website or sent out a press release, nor was Johnson on the list of past recipients of the award.
Dina Craig, Johnson’s director of communications, said she did not know why SMU had not sent out a press release or announced the award on their website since she “sent them a press release to send out” herself.
Craig chose to announce the award on Johnson’s website two days after it was given, saying she waited to announce it because she “wanted to put it up with pictures.”
Paddock said that there “must have been a misunderstanding,” because her department “hasn’t sent out press releases for Distinguished Alumni for four or five years.”
Paddock said that not announcing it on the SMU website, the alumni website or on the list of past recipients was “simply a mistake, since the office has been so busy lately.”
“[Hiding this] is not our intention at all,” said Paddock. “We said we would honor her at a future date, and that’s what we did in D.C.”
The only other time SMU has presented to the award to someone not present in Dallas was in 1988 to Melrose Place creator Aaron Spelling, who was unable to travel at the time, Paddock said.
Giving the award to Johnson in D.C. was also a matter of convenience, since the D.C. kickoff for the Second Century Campaign was already scheduled, Paddock said.
Johnson’s family, SMU President R. Gerald Turner, national leadership and SMU alumni living in D.C. were also able to attend the event there. The event attracted around 150 people in total, Paddock said.
“It was really the best of both worlds,” she said.