As Ladner Tallied Riches, Faculty Pinched Pennies

By Marc Fisher
Sunday, October 9, 2005

Tomorrow, the trustees of American University will decide whether His Royal Highness Benjamin Ladner shall continue as president, be permitted to resign with an enormous pile of cash on top of his $800,000 in annual compensation or be given the boot he so richly deserves.

The cavalcade of revelations about Ladner's royal approach to governance has not yet persuaded trustees to issue the obvious edict: Do not take one more tuition dollar from AU parents to enrich Ladner.

We're here to help.

Check out this eight-page, single-spaced list of the duties of the president's social secretary, who was also Nancy Ladner's executive assistant: Not only did tuition go to provide "computer assistance and training for Mrs. Ladner" and to "oversee status of President and Mrs. Ladner's wardrobes," but this assistant also supervised every aspect of the president's house, including "showers, commodes, sinks and garbage disposals," "birdbaths and planters" and the "silver closets and butler's pantry."

The assistant, Sally Ekfelt, since moved to another office, was also tasked with creating an "inventory chart of all paint used in the Residence (colors, sheens, manufacturers and formula reference numbers)" and conducting a "quarterly inventory of all silver flatware and hollowware."

I don't know about you, but at my house, we are often up all night worrying about whether our catalog of sheens is up-to-date. But enough about me; consider the ordinary AU professor, who perhaps lacks an assistant "responsible for a thorough understanding of Washington protocol and appropriate etiquette," as the Ladners required.

Sheva Farkas taught at AU's School of Communication for eight years before quitting this fall because it cost more to teach than the school paid her.

AU paid Farkas, who holds a doctorate and has 25 years of teaching experience, all of $4,000 to teach a course with 54 students. Between class time, correcting papers and meeting with students, she devoted 30 hours a week to the course. Yet when Farkas held a pizza break with her students, AU reimbursed her $90 for the pies and stiffed her for the $10 tip.

"My husband calls it VISTA -- Volunteer in Service to American," Farkas says jokingly. "I had to buy my own videos. We were fighting for hundreds of dollars, while he was spending hundreds of thousands."

Before her years as an adjunct -- the part-time teachers who handle more than a third of classes -- Farkas made $45,000 as a full-timer, far less than the U.S. university average.

"All I really wanted to do is teach," she says, "but when it gets to be a matter of losing money to do it and there's no reward other than my teaching highs, it's just not worth it."

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