University likely to fight Goldin on severance
If Boston University trustees revoke their offer of the school presidency to Daniel S. Goldin today, officials are planning to argue that Goldin has no right to the severance package stipulated in his contract because he will never have served as president, according to a trustee and another person close to trustees.
Meanwhile, president emeritus John Silber has resigned from the board, according to two trustees and others, meaning that for the first time since 1971, the passionate, controversial figure who shaped the modern Boston University will have no official role at the university.
"He must know that he is exercising an intimidating influence on the board," said H. Joachim Maitre, a BU professor and close Silber confidant.
Maitre said Silber spent a week this fall teaching philosophy to freshmen in the College of Communications and thoroughly enjoyed it. "He really wants to give it a final try in teaching. He is still good at that."
Silber was traveling in Texas and could not be reached.
When trustees meet at 10 this morning to vote on removing Goldin, just one day before he is to take office, they will be trying not only to undo what many of them believe was a mistake, but to limit their financial responsibility to the former head of NASA, whose contract stipulates annual pay of $750,000 and a wide array of other benefits.
"The reason for [firing Goldin] Friday as opposed to Monday is that it has contractual implications," said the source close to trustees, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The source added that the termination clause of the contract dictates that once Goldin starts work as president, he is entitled to the same amount of severance pay no matter how long he holds the job. "One of the unprecedented features of this is that it takes place on day one," the source said. "If he takes office and is fired on day two, he would get the whole severance."
BU will take the position that the contract has no bearing, said the source, even though it has been signed by Goldin and BU. As far as trustees are concerned, "He has no contract with us and he was never president of Boston University," the trustee said.
The question of compensation "will probably have to be decided in court -- if he chooses to pursue that," the trustee said.
Goldin's contract is for five years, with an option for another five years. It includes $150,000 in deferred compensation, a house, car, and driver. The source close to trustees said they eventually began to see Goldin's contract as excessively generous.
"It doesn't just include the kitchen sink," the source said. "It includes your kitchen sink."
Goldin wrote a letter to trustees Monday declaring: "I remain committed to being your next President." But he also staked out a legal claim, listing the work he'd already done for BU and the "irreversible" changes he'd made in his life, such as selling his Washington house, donating his furniture to charity, and dismantling his consulting business.
He also mentioned having two attorneys -- including high-powered Washington lawyer Robert Barnett, whose clients include Bill and Hillary Clinton -- who advised him of his legal rights. "I take those rights very seriously and will protect them vigorously," he wrote.
Goldin did not return a phone call yesterday.
Harvard Law School professor Einer R. Elhauge, a specialist in contracts, said the two sides would probably have very different interpretations of the school's financial obligation to Goldin.
BU "might be able to interpret some of the language as indicating he only gets the money after he starts work," said Elhauge, who was speaking in general and had not seen the contract. On the flip side, "if the contract is worded so that they promised him the job, [Goldin] could say, `they breached that promise by not letting me start. The least I would have earned would be the severance package.' "
Elhauge said the question of which claim has more merit depends on the contractual language.
Many trustees felt Goldin showed a disrespectful attitude toward Silber, who agreed to step down from his position as chancellor to pave the way for Goldin to lead on his own. "There can only be one president," Goldin said in his letter to trustees.
Trustees were also alarmed that Goldin indicated a plan to "clean house" by removing many Silber appointees throughout the administration. "We have a lot of truly outstanding people in place," the trustee said. "We probably would have lost the key people."
As they prepared to meet for several hours this morning, trustees were also debating sweeping changes to the board of trustees -- but were unsure how much would be decided today. Chairman Christopher A. Barreca is expected to step down, but it appears that trustees have not yet decided who will replace him.
One possible choice is investor Dexter Dodge, the vice chairman and a Silber loyalist, who ran last Friday's meeting at which the executive committee voted no confidence. Some trustees want to appoint real estate investor Alan Leventhal, the source close to trustees said yesterday. Other trustees are interested in bringing back John Hancock chief David D'Alessandro, who resigned in July.
Many trustees agree that this will be a difficult day for Boston University.
"Without a doubt the board bears complete responsibility" for the Goldin debacle, the trustee said. "We've seriously stumbled, and we're all very sad at the moment."
Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at email@example.com.
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