A committee of influential Boston University trustees voted yesterday to recommend that the university's governing board reconsider its decision to name former NASA chief Daniel S. Goldin as president of the 30,000-student campus, according to sources familiar with the trustees' concerns.
The decision by the executive committee of the BU Board of Trustees, coming about a week before Goldin is scheduled to take office, amounted to a "vote of no confidence" in Goldin, a source said, because several trustees have come to believe in the last few months that Goldin does not have a suitable temperament to lead the university.
The committee, a group of about 20 trustees with close oversight of university affairs, met privately yesterday and scheduled the entire board to hold an emergency meeting next Friday.
Some veteran trustees feel that Goldin, 63, has proved unreasonable and unyielding, and that he has sought to sideline president emeritus John Silber, the longtime president of BU who is still active in campus issues and was responsible for appointing most of BU's trustees, sources said.
While Goldin's appointment seems to be in jeopardy, it would take a vote of the full Board of Trustees to remove him.
Nancy Sterling, a spokeswoman for BU, confirmed that the executive committee had met yesterday and had called for the full board to meet Friday. She said the university cannot comment on committee deliberations.
If Goldin were removed, it would be a turnaround virtually unheard of in higher education. He was offered the presidency in a unanimous vote July 8, with trustee chairman Christopher A. Barreca calling him a "visionary." "He has more than demonstrated the ability to accomplish challenging goals, and we are confident that he would be an outstanding president for Boston University," said Barreca, who could not be reached yesterday.
A source familiar with the trustees' deliberations, which have been going on all week, said it is unclear whether the full board will agree with the executive committee's recommendation. But the last-minute wavering amounts to a strike against Goldin's credibility as a leader, in the view of some who are aware of yesterday's action.
Reached by phone last night, Goldin declined to comment. A number of trustees reached yesterday also declined to comment.
Goldin had been one of several finalists in BU's search for a leader to succeed Silber, and he was widely seen as having the inside track on the job, members of BU's presidential search committee said. Silber, a committee member and power broker on the BU Board of Trustees, was considered partial to Goldin. Silber was impressed with Goldin's credentials as the longest-serving administrator at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and he was influenced by Goldin's chief patron among the trustees, Washington lobbyist Gerald Cassidy, who is close to Silber.
Yesterday, a photo of Goldin and Silber side by side, meeting with entering freshmen, was on the university's news website.
But a source close to the trustees said some of the behavior on Goldin's part that has drawn concern related to his treatment of Silber.
During the search, Goldin made it clear to Silber and other search committee members that he would not accept the BU presidency if it meant sharing power with Silber, BU's chancellor, who was president from 1971 to 1996. Silber agreed to step down as chancellor and become president emeritus if Goldin accepted.
Since then, trustees have made it clear that Silber, who remains a trustee, still would be welcome to attend meetings of the executive committee, a decision that, according to a source close to the trustees, angered Goldin.
"John Silber has made an outstanding contribution to Boston University," a trustee, who did not want to be named, told the Globe last week. "It's the desire of everyone on the board to make sure that we honor John. As long as he wants to have a role, we want him to have a role.
"But he will not be president, and the president is in charge. We don't want anything to suggest that Dan Goldin's role as president is overshadowed."
This fall, Silber persuaded trustees to alter some tenure and promotion procedures at BU as well as some academic policies, decisions that Goldin ultimately would have to follow. A BU official said this week that "Silber is giving the impression that he still plans to have a say in university issues."
After five weeks of negotiations this summer, BU reached a contract with Goldin and announced his selection with great fanfare, hailing him as a strong leader who would elevate BU's reputation nationally and internationally.
Goldin, an engineer by training who was seen as a hard-charging and sometimes combative leader at NASA, had said that he was thrilled to be coming to BU and that he hoped to remain president for at least a decade. According to BU officials, Goldin was expected to be paid more than $600,000 a year; he also was preparing to move into the BU president's Brookline manse, which has been under renovation in recent weeks.
In an interview in August, Goldin said he had "an incredibly positive, cordial relationship with Silber."
But several of Goldin's friends also said that the incoming president was concerned about the lines of authority between himself and Silber, and that he adhered to a personal credo of "taking personal responsibility for everything I did."
Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at email@example.com.