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Not over at BU

THE BOSTON University succession struggle ended yesterday without a formal showdown, but that should not end the controversy. The BU board of trustees, as it is now constituted, has to be replaced and the shadow of John Silber lifted from the campus.

Silber has resigned from the board, but his domineering personality is not suited to retirement. As long as pro-Silber trustees influence decision-making, he will play a powerful role in university governance.

Daniel Goldin is no longer in line to succeed him, after a $1.8 million payment. What a waste, and that includes all the money paid for the executive search last year that was preempted when Silber persuaded the trustees to choose Goldin. Now the trustees promise another search while the dean of the medical school serves as interim president. That search is likely to be long and difficult: The BU presidency is not a desirable job while this board remains in charge.

If Boston University were a for-profit corporation, the shareholders would have thrown out the board by now. But BU serves as a public charity, and the trustees are answerable only to themselves. The single check is the Massachusetts attorney general, who has broad supervisory powers that are usually exercised in cases of questionable financial transactions.

In the past, Attorney General Thomas Reilly has taken an expansive view of this power. He vigorously questioned the sale of the Red Sox in 2002, even though it netted hundreds of millions of dollars for the Yawkey Foundation. Reilly is reacting with uncharacteristic reticence in the BU case.

Yet an article in the Globe yesterday suggested that board members whose companies do business with the university might be preventing Goldin from taking office to preserve those relationships. "That's an absolutely false assertion," said Robert Popeo, outside counsel to the trustees. "Goldin never raised an issue of conflict."

To buttress Popeo's statement, the trustees owe the BU community a thorough report on the Goldin decision and full disclosure of their financial interests. If they do not act, Reilly should insist on it.

Scott Harshbarger, Reilly's predecessor, forced BU to sign an agreement to limit Silber's influence on the board after it was revealed that the BU president got money from the sale of a university-controlled company. But Silber remains a looming presence, discouraging independent figures from joining or staying on the board and delaying the transition to a less arbitrary administration.

BU has a national reputation, and the Goldin debacle has surely cost it credibility throughout the academic world. The board needs to reform itself, but if it does not, Reilly needs to consider action to make sure that cronyism and incompetence do not cripple one of the state's great nonprofit institutions.

Daniel S. Goldin Daniel S. Goldin
Aram Chobanian Aram Chobanian (Courtesy BU)
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