Friday, September 28, 2012

King Silber is Dead

John Silber, the longtime president and then chancellor of Boston University, has died.

When I attended BU from 1992 to 1995, it was hard to find faculty or staff who had good things to say about Silber.  There was the feeling that Silber had done good work in the seventies steering BU away from the brink, but  now he had settled a pattern of intimidation, power consolidation, and abuse of his office.   

He was viewed as a niggling conservative, who brokered little compromise with opponents.  He commanded a large salary, even after his retirement, including a free house in Brookline for life.  He helped usher in that strange age of million dollar compensation packages for university presidents.

Silber vented an air of oppressiveness over BU.  His paternalistic arms hung over the campus.   In a bow to some Puritan impulse, undergrads were not allowed to have overnight visitors of the opposite sex .  He stopped a gay activity group from forming on campus.  He was socially and academically backward, preaching against such mainstream academic perspectives like cultural relativism, feminism, post-colonialism.   Other institutions had  moved far beyond these debates into the post-modern age, but Silber continued to preach an old line absolute value stance, and kept BU at a standstill. 

All in all, it was not a pretty picture.  This was a man with some deep, internal troubles.  And he took those problems, these unsolved issues of ego and control, and projected it out on the larger screen of university life.  It was a disgraceful and puny show to watch.

He may have done a great deal of good for Boston University at one time, but I believe in the end that the bad far outweighs the good.

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