Trustees Oust AU's Ladner as President

Protest organizer Monica Price, left, and Haya Matsumoto, both graduate students at American University, rally at the college's main quad before moving near the room where trustees were meeting.
Protest organizer Monica Price, left, and Haya Matsumoto, both graduate students at American University, rally at the college's main quad before moving near the room where trustees were meeting. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Kinzie and Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Benjamin Ladner, who led American University for more than 11 years as president before being suspended in August amid an investigation of his personal and travel expenses, was ousted by the board of trustees last night.

"We felt that Dr. Ladner could not continue to lead the university effectively, and we need to replace him," acting board Chairman Thomas A. Gottschalk announced to a small crowd of students, who cheered the declaration at a news conference.

Gottschalk said the board concluded that Ladner should reimburse the university $125,000 for expenses inappropriately charged to the school and pay taxes on an additional $398,000 in income for 2002 to 2005, the three school years investigated by auditors.

But the trustees did not decide other key issues, including whether Ladner would be dismissed "for cause" and therefore not receive severance. Also unresolved is whether he will be allowed to stay as a faculty member and how long he can remain in the university-owned president's house.

The intense debate leading up to the decision reflected just how divided trustees have become since an anonymous letter prompted the spending probe. The split led to the abrupt resignation of the board chairwoman on the eve of yesterday's meeting and a marathon session that ended with trustees leaving with security escorts.

A woman who answered the phone at the president's house last night said Ladner was unavailable for comment. A group of trustees went to the house to inform him of the decision, Gottschalk said.

Cornelius Kerwin, the longtime provost, will continue as acting president of the private university in Northwest Washington. The board plans to authorize a search committee at its Nov. 11 meeting, although trustees plan to meet again this month to discuss the thorny issues they could not resolve last night.

The board, Gottschalk said, agreed to adopt the findings of its Audit Committee, which concluded that Ladner owed the university far more than his attorneys had argued.

Auditors hired by the board leadership initially had questioned university-paid spending by Ladner and his wife, Nancy, on French wine, meals at chic restaurants in New York and abroad and chauffeurs who did personal errands for the couple. Ladner's attorneys said the conclusions were distorted and unfair and that virtually all of the spending was appropriate under the terms of his contract.

Some faculty members, students and alumni demanded yesterday to know whether Ladner, 63, who received more than $800,000 in total compensation in 2004, would be given a "golden parachute" severance deal and a position as the school's most highly paid professor. Under the terms of a 1997 employment agreement that is in dispute, Ladner is entitled to both if he is let go without cause.

"I'm pleased that he's gone," Monica Price, a graduate student, said of Ladner, "but the fact that he could potentially be on this campus as a faculty member is absurd. They need to resolve these issues."

The board spent all day behind closed doors. Deans, faculty members and student leaders met with trustees midmorning at the start of the session, which lasted past nightfall. "It was seething tension" in the room, student government President Kyle Taylor said afterward. "You could feel it."


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