AU President's Expenses Examined

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 3, 2005

American University's governing body is investigating allegations that school President Benjamin Ladner inappropriately charged the university for personal and travel expenses, a source with firsthand knowledge of the probe said yesterday.

University officials said last week that the Board of Trustees was investigating the school's finances. But on Monday, the board released a statement in an internal newsletter saying that the probe focused on "certain expenses in one department of the university" and that it was launched after several board members received an anonymous letter.

That letter was identified by the source yesterday as similar to one received last week by The Washington Post alleging broad expense account violations by Ladner and his wife, Nancy Bullard Ladner. The source said he could not be identified because it could compromise his role in the probe.

According to the letter received by The Post, the Ladners charged the university over the past five years for their son's engagement party, presents for their children, a personal French chef, vacations in Europe, maintenance of their personal residence in Maryland "including garbage bags," and wine up to $100 a bottle for lunch and dinner.

Ladner would not comment, said David E. Taylor, the president's chief of staff. The more than half of the board reached by phone declined to comment. Leslie E. Bains, the new board chairman, did not return phone calls.

It was unclear when trustees received the letter, but the board recently retained the law firm Arnold & Porter LLP to review the expenses, according to Taylor and Monday's statement in the newsletter. The lawyers then hired Protiviti, a risk management consulting group, to audit the records in consultation with the board's audit committee.

"The review and any wrongdoing discovered will not affect the university's strong financial position," the newsletter said.

Ladner came to the 10,000-student university in Northwest Washington in 1994 after a period of turmoil at American, which had five leaders in less than five years. He has been credited with improving academic standards and increasing fundraising at the 85-acre campus but came under early criticism for hiring a personal chef and other spending issues.

According to Internal Revenue Service records, Ladner's base salary was $633,000 for 2003-04. Ladner's compensation does not include campus housing; he has lived on campus in a house purchased for him by the trustees. He also spent more than $200,000 for drainage work and landscaping.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company