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Correction to This Article
A Sept. 24 Metro article about suspended American University President Benjamin Ladner incorrectly identified Pete Smith as chairman of the board of trustees' audit committee. Smith was a member of the compensation committee.

AU's Ladner Defends His Spending

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By Susan Kinzie and Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 24, 2005

Suspended American University President Benjamin Ladner defended his spending and his integrity yesterday, and said he has been treated unfairly by some members of the school's board of trustees, who barred him from campus this summer.

He cannot talk to faculty or students, he said, by order of the board's chairman. "You don't do this to people," Ladner said.

In a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters yesterday afternoon, Ladner talked about the inquiry into his expenses, which has mushroomed into something that has fractured the board and could damage the private university of about 11,000 students at a time when it has been ascendant. It was the first time he has spoken publicly at length about the inquiry.

Ladner, who was suspended in August pending the outcome of the investigation into his and his wife's expenses by the board of trustees, acknowledged some missteps -- such as not immediately reimbursing the university for his son's 13-course engagement party dinner last year -- but rejected an independent report that questioned more than half a million dollars in spending in the past three years.

The previous board chairman also spoke out for the first time yesterday, denying some of Ladner's words, and the rift on the board seemed to widen as a letter surfaced from a former board member who resigned last year rather than work with an "increasingly difficult" Ladner.

Ladner said most of the thousands of dollars that his wife charged to AU for household furnishings, food and beverages and that was questioned by the companies hired to do the audit was consistent with the terms of his contract.

As trustees consider his spending before deciding on Ladner's future at AU, one of the primary conflicts involves contracts. Three years after he came to the school, in 1997, he signed another contract that gave him dramatically better benefits, but that was unknown to many on the board. Lawyers are now arguing over whether that contract is legal.

"There's a good deal of internal tension right now," Ladner said of AU's trustees. A small group of board leaders has violated policies, he said, including board bylaws and the terms of his contract.

Some on the board argue that Ladner is not operating under a legal contract and that he has abused their trust. But one trustee has said they all share some culpability.

Ladner said he will consider legal action if he's dismissed "with cause." But he is not insistent on returning, he said.

"If I go back and everyone says, 'Ben, you misunderstood everything, everyone thinks you're a jerk,' " then it wouldn't make sense, he said. He wants to go back to a university ready to move forward.

Last night, an e-mail went out to professors at AU, announcing that the head of the faculty senate was calling a meeting "to address the investigation." Faculty leaders are expected to meet with the executive committee of the board Wednesday. And the faculty of several of the university's schools and colleges will meet Monday.


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