Monday, October 17, 2005

Deconstructing a man of contrasts :: WaPo

Scott of Hybla observes that one of the themes of Church Man is stories of the mighty falling, particularly focusing on Episcopalians. Here's another installment.

Quoting from the Washington Post article:
Before the audit, before the no-confidence votes, before trustees removed him as president of American University, Benjamin Ladner taught ethics.

That's the heart of his now contradictory story: He's a philosopher, known for the eloquence of his speeches, with more than a little Southern preacher in him. His friends describe him as an honorable, charismatic leader. But his critics -- who have been growing in number since an investigation found that the Ladners spent university money on foie gras, limousines, French wine and family parties -- say he's unethical, manipulative and imperious.
. . .
After graduating from Baylor University and Southern Seminary, he chose academics over the ministry: He earned a doctorate in religion at Duke University.
. . .
Friends in Atlanta remember a couple busy with their kids and his work, active in the Episcopal Church (he was sometimes asked to speak to the congregation). "Everyone just marveled at his gifts for speaking and educating," said Joan Cates, a former neighbor.
. . .
Rather than living in the president's house on the campus, the Ladners moved into another one the university bought nearby. They added a waterfall and a small pond full of koi to the back yard and upgraded from a cook who served home-style food to a chef who could make 100 canap├ęs for a university event or flounder stuffed with seafood mousse for the two of them.
. . .
Gina Maria Schulz avoided going on the campus when she worked at the president's house in the late 1990s because people would always ask her if the Ladners were living high on the hog, she said. "People on campus were so mean, and I just thought, 'You don't know the real Ladners.' "

She enjoyed her job -- "Personal Assistant to the First Lady," it said on her cards -- even though sometimes she and housekeeper Menei Man would roll their eyes at the rules. They always had to sort through all the clothes, she said, to figure out whether he had worn a tuxedo shirt at a wedding or a university event, to determine whether the bill was paid by AU or the Ladners. When Nancy Ladner wanted to take the housekeeper to their home on Gibson Island in the Chesapeake Bay, her husband said that wasn't appropriate, Schulz said. "He was the most ethical man I ever met," Schulz said.

Soon after Schulz left, Katya Thomas, now a Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, Congo, came to work there. She quit after a few months, she said, because the Ladners made no effort to separate personal from university expenses and she couldn't be a part of that. Besides, she said, "Dr. Ladner had a hot temper and treated me like his servant." They are people with exacting demands for anything from Christmas lights to flowers to how dress shirts and boxer shorts should be ironed, several staff members said. Daniel Traster, a chef there in 1998, learned to make cheese sticks just so, after about 20 tries. Two chauffeurs, both of whom were fired, said they would get in trouble if they didn't open the door of the black Infiniti for the couple even at home in the garage.
. . .
Ladner's longtime executive assistant, Margaret H. Clemmer, said in a statement to lawyers, "Dr. Ladner's schedule was maintained with strict confidentiality at his direction," with only his wife, Clemmer and her assistant allowed to access it. That made it difficult for even senior administrators to get things done, Clemmer said.

Jeffrey A. Madden, a chauffeur for the Ladners who was fired, said he remembers the chef preparing coolers full of salmon and steaks for a get-together for a few of Nancy Ladner's college friends on Gibson Island. The university car was so packed with coolers and cases of wine that he could hardly use the rearview mirror as he drove the supplies there, he said. "I worked for the university," he said, with a $40,000 salary. "But I felt like their personal little slave boy."
. . .
He has lost friends over his insistence that what he did was justified. Two trustees who had been close with the Ladners, George J. Collins and Paul M. Wolff, have become two of his most vocal critics. Wolff, who resigned from the board, said recently that he had affection for Ladner but believed his moral compass had lost its bearings.

The president also lost support on the campus. Many said that for all of Ladner's eloquence, he was deaf to how his legal arguments would sound to professors and students on financial aid. Exactly what he owes is less relevant than "that he thought that all of this was his due," said professor Lenny Steinhorn. "That's where the moral and ethical aspects of his leadership come in."

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