Sunday, October 02, 2005

Board of Trustees members criticize colleagues for investigating spendthrift American University Ladner

One of the underlying problems at American U., as at other universities, is that presidents often work hard to pack the board with loyal and generous supporters who identify with the university through the president. As a result, some of the board members give less than full attention to their larger fiduciary and due diligence roles as overseers of a not-for-profit universities. Then, as in this outrageous case, the accusations leveled at the president also become accusations against the negligent board members. The solution is clear, namely a house-cleaning on the board as well as a new executive leadership.
American University's Faculty Senate voted unanimously on Thursday for a resolution calling for the resignation of the university's suspended president, Benjamin Ladner, who is being investigated for his allegedly lavish spending. Also on Thursday, 13 members of the university's 25-member Board of Trustees released a statement praising Mr. Ladner and criticizing the board's leadership for its "lack of consultation with the full board" over the investigation.

Mr. Ladner, 63, and his lawyers have denied the gist of the audit, which has questioned $614,117 of his expenses. They have argued that the few mistakes he made were minor and inadvertent. Mr. Ladner has said that the audit is the result of a campaign by the board's chairwoman, Leslie E. Bains, and other trustees to oust him.

Paul M. Wolff, a trustee and a lawyer based in Washington, defended the audit and said trustees and Mr. Ladner had clashed over his pay before Ms. Bains became chairwoman, in May.

"He never stopped complaining about the desire for more money," said Mr. Wolff, adding that Mr. Ladner last year requested a $1.12-million bonus and $5-million in retirement benefits.

The statement from the 13 trustees, however, touted Mr. Ladner for leading the university through a period of "unprecedented growth and achievement" during his 11 years as president. Regarding the investigation, the statement said that "extensive expenditures on outside counsel and related professionals without the benefit of consultation with the full board may have created an unnecessary burden for the university."

Mr. Ladner on Tuesday said the audit had cost approximately $1-million.

Although American's governing board appears badly fractured over how to cope with the investigation, members of the Faculty Senate were in unanimous agreement that Mr. Ladner should resign.

"President Ladner's behavior does not pass the stink test," said John M. Richardson Jr., a professor in American's School of International Service, during a special meeting of the Faculty Senate on Thursday.

The senate's resolution, which says the group has "lost confidence in the leadership" of Mr. Ladner, calls on the university's board to dismiss him if his "resignation is not forthcoming shortly.

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