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Administrative Corruption,
Part 5: The President

By Professor Doom

The guy at the top of the institution, the president/chancellor/master of all, is in a unique position to be highly corrupt. Since “potential for corruption” means “corruption” in a discipline, Administration, that knows nothing else, it’s almost too easy to target these guys, but I’m going to have a lazy afternoon and hit a highlight.

The Lavish Lifestyle of Benjamin Ladne

Although it’s only famous in certain circles, American University is a reasonably old institution in a great location for an industry that benefits so much from politics: the District of Columbia. It stays small, enrolling only about 1500 students each year. Despite that, President Ladner lived large, very large; if his lifestyle was a gangsta, it’d use the Hope Diamond as a bit of bling on its nose.

As is so often the case, it takes years of blatantly inappropriate behavior before it finally sinks into the Educationism-addled brains of administrators that something must be wrong…an “anonymous letter” somehow made it to the trustees, indicating that they should probably look into their president’s expenditures.

Granted, Ladner had a lower hurdle to cross to be better than the previous president, who had a habit of making obscene phone calls (again, it’s problematic when looking at the inappropriate behavior of presidents, as it’s hard to figure out where to start). First, the university needed to buy him a new $1.45 million off campus mansion home--the “old” one on-campus was nearly 30 years old, after all—and spend another half million renovating it to Ladner’s high standards. The new palace was off campus, however, so the new president was less inclined to offer university-related functions (at least, those pertaining to students and faculty) there. Naturally, the trustees gave him money for a limo and driver to offset the hardship of commuting from the palace to, well, the institution that apparently existed for the purpose of maintaining the palace.

His house also got a staff, including a personal chef, paid for by the institution, a nice travel budget and, unlike “normal” faculty, he received an immediate tenure and rank of professor (this problem, where tenure is now something just for administrators to award to administrators, has come up before). His salary, of course, was phenomenal, with regular, huge pay raises (well over 20% in many years), closing in on a million a year for a campus with 11,000 or so students—basically every student chipped in $100 a year to support his lifestyle. I wonder if students had a choice about spending tuition money in this way, if they would do it. Meanwhile, faculty keep getting told there’s no money for raises…

The palace, the personal servants, the travel budget, even the huge salary, just wasn’t enough. Ladner’s wife also got a car and a university expense account. The couple took first class trips to Europe, sending the bills to the university (to give some idea of how they lived, the food bill for a 2 day trip to Rome was over $1200). There were also trips to Africa, first class all the way, and staying at elite hotels. Even trips to the hairdresser required the limo.

Again, it took years before the board noticed. They received an anonymous letter about the expenses, and punished Ladner severely: his 2003 pay raise was only a lousy 3% (again, far more than faculty get, I recently struggled and failed for 2 straight years to get a 1.8% pay raise despite exceptional evaluations, the only raise I would have gotten in 6 years, but I digress…). Ladner complained bitterly, responding that the board should at least give him a few extra hundred thousand in cash bonuses; to their immense credit (for a board), they refused.

The very minor disciplinary action of a small pay raise (which would count as gushing praise for a faculty member, perhaps as a reward for curing cancer, or winning a Nobel prize…I would be so grateful for such disciplinary action) didn’t deter Ladner, who afterwards had the university pay for a 13 course engagement dinner for his son. The trustees examined Ladner’s expenses further, and the full extent of Ladner’s extravagance became known.

Somehow, the board was split as to whether to fire Ladner. Seriously, some folks saw the expenses as legitimate, others as excessive…there wasn’t enough to fire him. A whistleblower gave the expense report to a local paper, and Ladner became just too much of a liability. Finally, they let him go, giving him a lousy, crappy, $3,750,000 severance package. It still wasn’t enough, and they had to pay an extra $18,000 to help him move out of the palace.

I wish I didn’t have to keep saying “I can’t make this stuff up.”

I again remind the reader of the theme here: it really takes years of blatantly inappropriate behavior before the corruption has any real chance of being caught. It doesn’t matter whether if that behavior is extravagant spending, or sodomizing children, it will take a very long time before anything is done, and ultimately one cannot count on administrators to do the right thing unless they have no other choice in the matter. Absolutely, positively, no other choice.

I remember taking multivariate calculus as an undergraduate. Long after I’d grasped the material, the professor would call out “Let’s do another one” and then work another example of the concept at hand. I learned to dread hearing that phrase, but, nonetheless, perhaps it’s not clear what’s going on in higher education. So, guess I should dig up another example…might take a few minutes.

Let’s do another one! Next time, I promise.





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