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Push seen for a shake-up at BU board

Tomorrow's vote by Boston University trustees on whether to revoke the job of incoming president Daniel S. Goldin could set the stage for changes in BU's governing board and have far-reaching consequences for the school's leadership, according to a person close to the trustees.

"Factions on the board feel strongly that there has to be a review of governance and the direction of the board," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There's a real question as to whether the board has been an adequate check."

Several sources over the past week have told the Globe they expect the full board to rescind Goldin's job offer tomorrow, a week after the board's executive committee voted to reconsider its appointment of the former NASA chief.

Meanwhile, a number of trustees have been meeting in small groups and speaking by telephone this week, advocating for a shake-up of the board after the public embarrassment of losing confidence in Goldin, who is scheduled to take office on Saturday. Not present at the meeting will be John Silber, the longtime BU leader who backed Goldin's candidacy and whose treatment by Goldin was a central issue for many trustees. Though a member of the board, he will be out of town on a previous engagement, said a university official.

The only thing certain to be decided at tomorrow's emergency meeting is Goldin's future as BU president. But many of the trustees will also push to address deeper problems exposed by the school's succession crisis, said a source close to the trustees.

Trustees expect their chairman, Connecticut lawyer Christopher A. Barreca, to resign because of health problems, possibly as soon as tomorrow, said the source. One possible replacement would be Dexter Dodge, former chief executive of Freedom Capital Management and the board's current vice chairman, said the source. Dodge declined to comment yesterday.

However, some trustees are interested in trying to bring David D'Alessandro back to the board as the chairman, said a different source close to several trustees.

Until he resigned from the board over the summer because the Goldin selection, D'Alessandro, the chief executive of John Hancock Financial Services, Inc., was seen as a possible candidate for the next chairmanship.

Meanwhile, many trustees want Silber to resign from the board and its executive committee. Some trustees have discussed giving him an honorific title, "founder of the university," in the place of any official role. Silber has already resigned as chancellor and has been appointed president emeritus.

"If you ask me, I'll go off the board," Silber told trustees, according to the first source.

However, Silber appears to have given mixed signals on this question in recent months. Before he was appointed, Goldin told trustees he would not take the job unless Silber resigned from the board, and Silber agreed. But in a letter Goldin wrote to trustees earlier this week, he complained of "various backtrackings" on those agreements.

If Goldin's job offer is revoked, Silber is not expected to be named acting president, as he was last year when his successor, Jon Westling, was ousted by trustees. A favorite candidate among trustees for interim president is medical school Dean Aram V. Chobanian, the source said, although two other BU administrators were finalists for the presidency -- provost Dennis Berkey and law school dean Ronald Cass. Chobanian served on the search committee.

Silber has given no interviews about the current crisis. Goldin could not be reached last night. Many trustees decided they could no longer support Goldin when he showed what they considered disrespect for Silber and appeared too controlling, a number of sources have told the Globe in the past week.

Some trustees also say the board made a mistake by giving Goldin one of the most generous contracts in the history of university leadership: $750,000 a year, plus $150,000 a year in deferred compensation, a house, car, and driver. "There's a feeling that the compensation committee basically took what Goldin suggested and accepted it," the first source said yesterday.

It is unclear what contractual obligations BU will have to Goldin if trustees rescind their offer. But higher-education observers interpreted the letter Goldin sent the board on Monday as the first legal salvo. In the memo, Goldin listed the "irreversible" life changes he had already made in preparation for the job, such as selling his house and dismantling business commitments, and he alluded to hiring legal counsel to advise him of his rights.

"He's building a case as to having materially altered his position, which therefore makes him eligible for some kind of compensation," said Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education, who emphasized that he spoke in general terms and was not familiar with Goldin's personal situation. "This is a prelude to a claim of damages." BU issued an unsigned statement about the issue on its website yesterday. "It is obvious that the University is facing a number of unique challenges at the moment," said the statement, which added that key issues would be resolved at tomorrow's meeting. "Until that time, there is very little information that can be shared." Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at

Daniel S. Goldin Daniel S. Goldin
John Silber John Silber
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