American University's board of trustees has hired outside attorneys and auditors to investigate the school's finances, a spokesman at the school said late yesterday.

David E. Taylor, chief of staff to university President Benjamin Ladner, said that "some questions surrounding university finances recently came to the board's attention" -- although he would not say how the information came to the board -- and that outside counsel was immediately retained.

The attorneys hired auditors who have been working with the board's audit committee to "conduct a thorough review of all the affected financial areas," he said. The probe is expected to be completed soon, he said.

Taylor would not disclose how long the review has been going on or what areas are being investigated or provide any other details about the probe. He said Ladner and Leslie E. Bains, the new chairman of the board, would not comment because it was inappropriate while the investigation is underway. George J. Collins, who stepped down as chairman in May, said he was on the audit committee and could not provide details. Several other members of the 17-person board, which includes Ladner, did not return phone calls.

The investigation comes at a time of calm for the 85-acre school in Northwest Washington, which underwent a tumultuous period before Ladner arrived in 1994 as the fifth president in less than five years.

Ladner stirred controversy early in his tenure by firing nearly all top administrators and cutting back some doctoral programs, but he was praised by members of the school's governing board for increasing fundraising, requiring higher SAT scores from incoming freshmen and launching a strategic plan in 2000. Evidence of his fundraising is the new Katzen Art Center on Massachusetts Avenue.

Ladner also drew attention with some of his expenses: He hired a chef, a household assistant and a full-time assistant for his wife, Nancy, who has worked alongside her husband on a volunteer basis to help raise the university's profile.