By Susan Kinzie and Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Faculty at five of American University's six schools passed votes of no confidence in suspended President Benjamin Ladner yesterday, a symbolic yet strong rejection of his leadership as an investigation of his spending continues.
"There's just a lot of anger and disappointment," said John Douglass, director of the film and media arts division of the School of Communication and a former chairman of the Faculty Senate. "Our issues are the moral leadership of the university."
Resolutions at five schools -- the College of Arts & Sciences, the Kogod School of Business, the School of Communication, the School of International Service and the Washington College of Law -- suggested professors' concern over not only allegations of excessive spending but also the oversight of the university. A sixth school, the School of Public Affairs, was short of a quorum but also had a "sense of the meeting resolution" in favor of Ladner's resignation or removal.
"I'm sorry it was done without having access to complete information," Ladner said yesterday evening when he was told of the votes. He declined to comment further but said Sunday that because of documents leaked to the media, he has been at a disadvantage in trying to correct the impression that his and his wife's spending was inappropriate.
In the resolutions, which varied, at least one school formally included a call for more transparency from the board of trustees. The business school asked that Ladner not be given a "golden parachute" severance package to cushion his departure. The law school suggested, unanimously among those voting, that he be terminated immediately.
The votes were all strongly in favor of the resolution, but it was unclear late yesterday what percentage of the total faculty had voted. Some expressed concern over whether they had enough information to make a judgment.
Anthony Ahrens, chairman of the Faculty Senate, said he hopes that the body will meet Thursday or Friday. The Faculty Senate is the authoritative voice of professors at all six schools of the university, but the simultaneous votes yesterday had an immediate emotional punch.
A no-confidence vote is symbolic, a message sent to the trustees, and other university presidents have survived them. Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard University, did so this spring.
The group of trustees that backs Ladner -- one trustee counted 13 of 25 -- finished negotiating a proposed contract with him and pushed for the full board to get him back on campus.
Ladner has been on paid leave for a month as trustees finish an investigation prompted by an anonymous letter that claimed that Ladner and his wife were spending university money on travel and parties.
A report by independent lawyers and auditors hired by the board questioned more than half a million dollars in spending; Ladner and his attorneys say the report was inaccurate and distorted, that his contract clearly authorized the expenditures and that he will pay back about $21,000 in "isolated and inadvertent" personal expenses.
Ladner has been at American, a private university with about 11,000 students in Northwest Washington, since 1994 and has won admirers for improving the school's academics and endowment.
The new deal would include compensation of about $800,000 for Ladner and a salary for his wife, Nancy Ladner, of at least $80,000, according to three sources close to the negotiations.
It would take a 13 to 12 or stronger vote by trustees to end his suspension, and the board is split. The board of trustees is expected to meet Oct. 10; Ladner's advocates hope to meet sooner.
Last week, in a meeting with the editorial board and reporters at The Washington Post, Ladner said that he wouldn't want to "arrogantly go back in," but that he had done a lot of thinking about what was best for the institution.
The university is halfway through a major fundraising campaign and deep in the midst of a 15-point strategic plan, so part of his thinking will be his ability to further that agenda, Ladner said. "Obviously I would want to feel that the board, and more importantly the students, the faculty, my own staff, the vice presidents, the deans, felt we were resuming something we were in together."
When asked whether he could go back if there was a no-confidence vote by faculty, Ladner said last week, "I'd have to see what the conditions are -- I've seen campuses where those things come up without the faculty being fully informed."
Over the weekend, Ladner tried to arrange a Sunday meeting with the six deans of the schools, according to several sources who asked to remain anonymous because of their positions; the deans talked and decided against meeting with Ladner. He had been asked not to contact students, faculty or staff members while he was on leave.
One trustee who wants to retain Ladner and believes the investigation has been unfair to the president, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the faculty votes were meaningless because they were based on misinformation.
Students sent out instant messages and put up fliers last night to announce an anti-Ladner rally tomorrow evening.
Joseph Vidulich, secretary of the undergraduate Student Government, said last night that the faculty votes were a clear indication that it might be time for Ladner to go.
"What it says to me is that no matter whether the allegations are proven true or false, there is a question about President Ladner's ability to lead this university into the future," Vidulich said. "As a student leader, I don't know if it's in the best interests of this university for him to be at the head."
Staff writer Nia-Malika Henderson and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.