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Goldin pushes for BU post

Vows commitment, cites own 'irreversible' steps

Daniel S. Goldin, the embattled incoming president of Boston University, yesterday sent a memo to the school's trustees saying he had no intention of backing away from the presidency and would protect his rights "vigorously" despite an attempt by the board's executive committee to revoke his job offer.

In a polite but strongly worded memo obtained by the Globe, Goldin wrote: "Despite the events of the past few days, I remain committed to being your next President."

The executive committee, a group of 20 influential trustees, held a vote of no confidence in Goldin last Friday and scheduled a meeting of the full board to vote on his candidacy at the end of this week, a day before the former NASA head was supposed to begin work. It would take a simple majority of trustees who attend Friday's meeting to revoke Goldin's appointment to the presidency. The board of trustees has about 50 members.

In the 3 1/2-page memo, which was marked "Confidential," Goldin outlined some sources of tension with the board, including his demand that longtime leader John Silber step aside to clear the way for his arrival, but declared that "those issues are behind us" now that Silber is no longer chancellor.

He also wrote that the board's reported concern about his temperament "amazes me," and enumerated contributions he has already made to the university -- including helping to win a federal contract for a bioterrorism defense lab worth an estimated $1.6 billion. The memo also described the "irreversible" life changes he has made in preparation for the job, including selling his house in Washington and pulling back from various business interests.

Reached on his cellphone yesterday, Goldin declined to comment on the letter.

BU acknowledged receiving the letter and said it would be discussed on Friday. Although Goldin's letter stakes a firm position, it is also gracious and conciliatory in places, offering an apology to those he may have offended and saying, "I look to assume the duties of the Presidency with an open mind, a lot of ideas, and the hope to make you proud of the job I will do."

In his letter, Goldin wrote that he was told in a phone call last Friday afternoon that "despite our binding contract, I would not be permitted to become the new President."

"I was dismayed that this precipitous action was taken without any consultation with me and with no due process," wrote Goldin.

Goldin had negotiated one of the more lucrative contracts of any university leader in America. A source close to the trustees, speaking on condition of anonymity, yesterday said Goldin was given a five-year contract with a yearly salary of $750,000, plus an additional $150,000 a year in deferred compensation.

His benefits also include housing and a car and driver, the source said. University officials had previously said that Goldin would be paid a minimum of $600,000 a year.

Goldin's memo shed light on the deep rift that opened between trustees and the man they hired over the question of what role would be played by Silber, who remained the most dominant figure at BU even after stepping down as president and being named chancellor in 1996. He took the reins of the university again last year when Jon Westling, his successor as president, was ousted by trustees.

Goldin said he agreed to accept the job on the condition that Silber resign as chancellor, step down from the board of trustees -- including the executive committee -- and move out of his plush executive offices.

"There can only be one President, and I wanted to assure that the communications between me and the Board would be straightforward and uncomplicated," Goldin wrote.

Goldin went on to say that there was subsequent "backtracking" on that agreement, which led to "uncomfortable discussions." Although Silber initially agreed to Goldin's condition and was a big supporter of the former NASA chief's candidacy, he later decided to remain on the board, and trustees have said that he would be welcome at the executive committee meetings.

"I believed, perhaps naively, that these difficult issues could best be addressed one-on-one between Dr. Silber and me," Goldin wrote, adding "If anyone was offended, I apologize."

"I greatly admire Dr. Silber and would look forward to being able to rely upon his considerable expertise," Goldin wrote.

Silber, who was hospitalized until Sunday for minor surgery, could not be reached yesterday.

In response to the doubts raised by trustees about his behavior, Goldin, who was leader of NASA from 1992 to 2001, wrote that he got along with three presidents and five sessions of Congress as well as thousands of others he has encountered in his work.

"Have I had disagreements? Have I made mistakes?" he asked. "Sure. Have I performed at the highest level of accomplishment, integrity, and made many friends along the way? I am proud to say so."

Goldin, 63, wrote that he and his wife, Judy, were in the process of donating much of their furniture in Washington to charity when he got the call Friday about the executive committee's vote.

He said that he had sold his house in Washington and vacated his home in Del Mar, Calif., and that he had begun diminishing his involvement in two companies he chartered and the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, Calif., as well as dissolving his consulting business "at great financial sacrifice."

"Today, I had the sad task of informing my grandchildren that the inaugural might have to be cancelled," Goldin wrote.

But the most important thing, he said, was the harm BU would suffer if he were fired.

"The uncertainties that are created, the behavior that is being taught, and the damage to the reputability of this institution that is being caused to happen are very, very unfortunate," he wrote.

The BU community has been roiled by the trustees' dramatic move to fire the leader they hailed as a "visionary."

"For the second time in 18 months we find ourselves embarrassed by the action of the Board of Trustees concerning the presidency of the University," nine current and former members of the Faculty Council wrote in a statement yesterday, referring to Westling's removal.

The statement went on to say that Silber has had excessive influence on BU affairs. A petition drafted by a group of professors was expected to be online today for faculty, students, and staff to sign.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.

com. Steve Bailey can be reached at bailey@globe.com.

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