Three American University trustees have been authorized by the school's governing board to negotiate a severance package with ousted president Benjamin Ladner, according to sources knowledgeable about the proceedings.
The board is making plans to elect a new chairman and restructure itself after Ladner's dismissal Monday night, a move that capped a months-long audit of his personal and travel expenses and resulted in his removal after an 11-year tenure as president.
Ladner did not return phone calls made yesterday to his university-owned residence. His attorneys, David Ogden and Randy Goodman, also did not return phone calls.
The AU community moved into a transition period yesterday with Cornelius Kerwin, longtime provost and acting president, at the helm. Kerwin is likely to remain in the post until at least the end of this academic year, with the board expecting to launch an official presidential search next month.
According to sources who asked not to be identified because of the confidentiality of board proceedings, there were no dissensions during the vote to terminate Ladner, who was suspended in August, but there were abstentions. Exactly how many was unclear yesterday.
Though the feuding members of the board agreed on Ladner's fate even before Monday's meeting, they could not agree on whether he should receive severance money, and if so, how much, and whether he should be given a tenured job on the faculty, as well as other issues.
Some trustees expressed concern in the meeting that Ladner would sue the board, the sources said.
After lengthy debate, the sources said, the board appointed three of its members -- one who had been a staunch supporter of Ladner, one who sought his ouster and one perceived to be neutral -- to work together to negotiate a package that Ladner would be willing to accept but that would not be seen as a "golden parachute," or an excessive amount. Faculty, students and deans have said such a package would be inappropriate.
Ladner and his attorneys have said in documents submitted to the investigators who conducted the audit that he believes he is entitled to all the provisions in a 1997 employment contract he signed. That contract, which the investigators concluded would not hold up in court because they said it was never ratified by the full board, provides generous severance terms, including a position as a tenured faculty member with benefits and a salary "that is always 20 percent above the highest AU faculty salary."
There is precedent at American for a former president staying on as a professor; Richard Berendzen, who resigned as president in 1990 after it was discovered that he had made obscene phone calls, returned to campus as a popular professor of astronomy after medical treatment.
As an indication of how difficult the board's negotiations were, initially there was a move to appoint a group of six trustees, but there was too much argument over who would be on it, the sources said. They settled on three.
Richard Durand, dean of the Kogod School of Business, discussed severance with the trustees during an appearance at the meeting, where students, faculty and deans were invited to speak before the vote.
Thomas A. Gottschalk, the board's vice chairman who served as interim chairman at the meeting after the resignation of Chairwoman Leslie E. Bains on Sunday, told a news conference that board members started coming together by the end of the session.
Still, trustees plan to hold a special meeting Oct. 20 to try to sort out the thorny issues that could not be resolved Monday, university officials said. That is the same day that the university will celebrate the official opening of the Katzen Arts Center, a fine arts facility funded in part by Ladner friend Cyrus Katzen.
Trustees have not decided who will replace Bains, but the sources said the most likely candidate is Gary M. Abramson, partner at the Tower Cos., a real estate development firm in Bethesda. Abramson could not be reached for comment.
Staff writers Susan Kinzie and Allan Lengel contributed to this report.