Last month’s dismissal of American University President Benjamin Ladner for embezzling nearly a half million dollars in school funds wasn’t the ideal way for freshman Ed Newman to begin his college years.
But if you ask Newman what he thinks of his school’s former leader, his answer might surprise you.
“He was a great leader for the school,” said Newman. “He went out of the box in doing things for the university, and it’s going to be hard to find someone to live up to that standard.”
Not all American University students agree with Newman, but his opinion reflects the disagreement among students and faculty at the private Washington, D.C. university over how the situation has been handled. More than one month after Ladner’s dismissal, the campus is divided between those still angry at the former president and those who wish to move on.
The university’s board of trustees formally dismissed Ladner on Oct. 10, following a month-long investigation into the misuse of $500,000 in school funds. Auditors found he had used university money to cover a number of personal expenses, including vacations and family birthday parties.
On Oct. 25, the board offered Ladner a $3.7 million severance package, as guaranteed by his contract. The settlement includes a one-time $950,000 severance payment and $2.75 million in deferred compensation, and it requires Ladner to pay back $125,000 to the school for improperly billed expenses.
The deal sparked outrage from many within the school community who considered the sum undeserved. The AU faculty senate passed a resolution last week condemning the package as excessive, and each of the university’s six schools released statements expressing the same sentiment.
Reaction from student leaders was just as strong. Kyle Taylor, president of the student government, sent a letter to Congress asking for the government to intervene in the situation.
That request may be answered. On Oct. 28, the Senate Finance Committee requested every university document concerning Ladner’s termination and severance package. The university has until Dec. 1 to respond.
On AU’s campus, anger towards Ladner is not difficult to come by. Many students are outraged that someone found to have cheated the university would receive what they consider undue compensation.
“I think it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” said sophomore Danielle Arena. “Sure, go ahead and steal our money and then we’ll give you more on top of that. I don’t pay for college for you to pay for your niece’s birthday parties.”
Still, a number of students simply want the university to leave the situation behind and find a new president.
“I don’t think it’s worth more than $3 or $4 million for the university to fight this battle,” said graduate student Courtney Radsch. “What’s the point of bringing a lawsuit that’s going to cost more than the severance package?”
Others are worried that the controversy might affect their school’s reputation. Many students said that the university should do all it can to put the issue to rest as soon as possible.
“I think it’s more a question of how long do you want to continue this,” said sophomore Kevin Kelly. “This school has a duty to protect its image, and they don’t want this thing in the papers anymore.”
With Ladner’s severance package decided upon, the university will next have to find his replacement. The university’s provost, Cornelius Kerwin, has served as American University’s president since Ladner’s dismissal.