AU to Offer As Much as $4 Million To Ladner

By Valerie Strauss and Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 22, 2005

American University trustees have agreed to offer ousted president Benjamin Ladner a choice: Accept a departure package of between $3 million and $4 million by the beginning of next week or be fired "for cause" and risk losing some or all of it, sources said.

That figure, which is higher than negotiators had discussed originally, includes salary, deferred compensation owed to Ladner and moving costs, according to sources knowledgeable about actions taken at a board meeting Thursday.

The trustee who led the audit committee, and who looked through thousands of pages documenting Benjamin and Nancy Ladner's spending, resigned from the board effective yesterday. In a letter to the acting chairman, given to The Washington Post by someone else, Leonard R. Jaskol said his conscience would not allow him to vote for any money to be paid to Ladner, even though he said he understands "the practicality of settling these matters rather than litigating them."

Jaskol's departure shifts the balance of power even further on a board that has been deeply split over Ladner. In the past two weeks, three other trustees have quit, including some of Ladner's sharpest critics. In the days and weeks ahead, the board will try to reach an agreement with Ladner, address its own structure and begin searching for a new president.

The board dismissed Ladner last week after a months-long investigation of his and his wife's spending. Trustees launched an audit in the spring of Benjamin and Nancy Ladner's personal and travel expenses after receiving an anonymous letter. On Oct. 10, the board concluded that he should reimburse the university $125,000 and add $398,000 to his taxable income for the three years investigated.

What was left unresolved were the terms of his departure -- whether he was terminated "for cause" and whether he would get a severance package, a faculty position or nothing.

Ladner has asked for more, sources said.

Ladner said yesterday evening: "I'm restrained from talking about that. I'm sorry. I'd be helpful if I could, but after what I've been through. . . ."

His attorneys, David Ogden and Randy Goodman, did not respond to messages.

Any deal arranged with Ladner is likely to be confidential, sources said.

On the AU campus in Northwest Washington, some students were shocked by the potential numbers. "It's abhorrent," said Chris Sgro, a senior and outgoing student government member. "Why are we rewarding this man for dragging the university through the mud and casting shadows over everything good the university does? . . . I'm furious."

Sgro said he was sorry the news was coming on a weekend of positives for the school, with parents and alumni visiting and the big opening gala for the Cyrus and Myrtle Katzen Arts Center on Thursday night. As for the trustee resignations, he said, "All that is good about that board is one by one marching out of that conference room."

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