AU Should Pay Benjamin Ladner Nothing

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Benjamin Ladner, the ousted president of American University who was caught using university coffers for personal purposes, has provided quite an ethics lesson. The AU board of trustees followed his example by offering Mr. Ladner a nearly $4 million departure package [front page, Oct. 22], which he accepted yesterday.

We are an AU professor and a graduate student in ethics and peace in global affairs, and our field draws on ethical democratic theory. We can see how the Ladner scandal illustrates what happens in the absence of democratic governance. The buyout offer was announced during an investigation by the Justice Department and as IRS and FBI investigations were pending.

Unethical -- potentially criminal -- behavior must not be rewarded with economic gain. Mr. Ladner should not receive one more dime from American University pending the outcome of the federal investigations.

The students and faculty of American University have spoken with near unanimity. Unfortunately, the board of trustees did not listen. Despite requests for transparency, the board continues to conduct business in secret, and information becomes public through press leaks.

We demand the resignation of those trustees who have neglected their fiduciary responsibilities to AU -- including the members of the Ad Hoc Committee of 13 who rallied to support the unreasonable demands of Mr. Ladner.

Ultimately, ethical theory attempts to answer the question: How shall we live? Mr. Ladner and the AU trustees are providing a textbook case study in how we should endeavor not to live.





Julie Mertus is co-director of the ethics, peace and global affairs program at American University. Kristin Rawls is a master's student in the university's ethics program.

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