So it finally happened: the president of American University, my undergrad alma mater, has been terminated (subscription required) after coming “under heavy fire for spending university funds on lavish personal parties, a highly paid chef, and other amenities, including a car service for his wife.” The battle with Ladner has been epic, but he may have the last laugh after all because his contract “could require the university to retain Mr. Ladner as American’s highest paid faculty member for life.” Still, this is undeniably a major blow to a formerly imperial university president.
Of course, it is hard for me to feel sympathy for him; I cut off most of my ties with AU after its lousy treatment of Ben Wetmore, a student who got in serious trouble for simply trying to tape to an open speech by Tipper Gore. Wetmore’s real crime was that he ran a website called benladner.com, which mocks the excesses of the now-former president to this day. AU’s shameful behavior was the topic of my very first national op-ed, in which I concluded:
What ought we to call a place where one is abused for being a journalist, deprived of property without legal recourse, charged with crimes that have no relationship to law, judged by a jury of one’s opponents, found guilty for one’s thoughts and attitudes, ordered to imbibe “right thinking,” punished with no appeal, and subject to deprivation of one’s academic career and future livelihood on the basis of autocratic whim? The totalitarian analogy isn’t all that far-fetched.
Well, I was young at FIRE then and every year I would learn about new (and, in some cases, undeniably worse) abuses going on at campuses all over the country. Still, it was my alma mater that gave me one of my first lessons in administrative corruption and unfairness. So long, President Ladner. Thanks to the terms of your contract, you may often be seen chatting with your students while drinking mojitos at the Tavern, but I am glad you are no longer at the helm!