A sorry spectacle is unfolding at American University ["AU Board Divided on Keeping President," Metro, Sept. 25], and the sorriest part of all is not suspended President Benjamin Ladner's profligate spending but a board of trustees that abdicated its stewardship responsibilities.

A board cannot fulfill its essential fiduciary role unless it acts as a whole on significant matters. This board was prevented from doing so by a small group of trustees who apparently knew the contents of Mr. Ladner's anything-goes contract but chose not to share that information with their colleagues or to bring the matter to a vote by the full board.


Davidson, N.C.

The writer was general manager of WAMU radio at American University from 1987 to 1999.


Discussion of the controversy involving American University President Benjamin Ladner should not ignore the specter of former president Richard Berendzen. When Mr. Berendzen was forced to leave in 1990, the university confronted a catastrophe that threatened its existence.

Many trustees credit Mr. Ladner, who took over four years later, with restoring American's reputation and returning it to financial viability. In their corporate analysis, the thousands he spent under questionable circumstances pales next to the millions he has brought to the university. That appears to be why a large bloc of trustees is eager to retain him.

As an AU graduate and former adjunct faculty member, I don't take issue with that logic. What bothers me is that Mr. Ladner, instead of apologizing, has chosen a course of aggressive defiance of anyone who questions his spending. If his reported statements do not accurately reflect his mind-set, perhaps he could take the same amount he spent to send his chef to Europe and invest instead in a public relations consultant.




As the parent (and financier) of an American University student, I regard the spending habits of President Benjamin Ladner and his family as a particularly low blow because I have paid part of the outlandish bills that they incurred.

But there is the broader issue of fiscal management at colleges generally.

Why, for instance, must a student attending Harvard University pay $40,000 a year when the annual interest income earned on the Harvard endowment fund alone would cover the expenses of nearly every student?

How can professors be "renowned" when they spend most of the time earning consulting fees or doing expert-witness work, leaving the real work of teaching to graduate students and assistants?

The problem with colleges is that they are not financially accountable to anyone. Students have no power, parents are too remote, and few people would ever imagine that the school president is in Nigeria, his chef is touring Europe and his wife is throwing parties with the students' tuition payments.


Great Falls