American U. President Placed on Leave

Board acts amid reports of lavish spending of university funds.
August 25, 2005

The Board of Trustees of American University announced Wednesday that Benjamin Ladner, the institution's president since 1994, had been placed on administrative leave.

The brief announcement from Leslie Bains, chair of the board, said that Ladner was on administrative leave "pending the outcome of an investigation into personal and travel expenses."

The investigation, which is being conducted by outside lawyers and auditors, was revealed by The Washington Post early this month. The Post reported that it had received an anonymous letter -- also apparently sent to board members -- with allegations about spending by Ladner. According to the letter, Ladner used university funds to pay for the use of a French chef, an engagement party for his son, trips to Europe, and $200,000 in drainage and landscaping work at his home.

University officials -- including Ladner -- have declined to discuss the investigation. A spokeswoman said last night that the president would not comment on being placed on leave.

While the board statement did not say so, the spokeswoman said that the president's leave is a paid one. According to Internal Revenue Service records, Ladner’s salary was $633,000 last year.

At American, Ladner has been credited with raising large sums of money to pay for new and renovated facilities, and with promoting links between the university and foreign institutions.

An editorial published Monday in The Eagle, AU's student newspaper, praised Ladner's fund raising skills and said that they had led to "momentum" for the university. But the editorial also said that students, as the ones "paying ever-increasing tuition costs," have a right to know how university money is being used, and that Ladner cannot expect "blind trust."

The student journalists criticized trustees for being "evasive" about the investigation. "Nothing less than honest and open stewardship of student funds should be accepted," the editorial said.

Cornelius M. Kerwin, provost at the university, has been named acting president.


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