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Leader eyed in search at BU

Hancock chief seen as chairman

Boston University trustees are expected to recommend John Hancock chief executive officer David D'Alessandro to head the school's presidential search today, according to a source familiar with the trustees' plan.

The recommendation will be made to BU's full board by a trustee committee that has been working since May to establish a search strategy for the university.

At today's meeting, the BU board aims to close a difficult chapter for the university, which last year hired a president and then fired him, with an $1.8 million severance package, the day before he was to start the job.

The choice of D'Alessandro to lead the search, if approved by the full board, would carry symbolic weight for BU, where leaders are eager to show alumni, donors, and potential candidates that they have learned from their mistakes.

D'Alessandro resigned from the board last summer because he disapproved of the decision to hire Daniel S. Goldin, former head of NASA, as BU's president. At the time, D'Alessandro told other trustees, "I don't want to have the job of firing Goldin."

The university is currently run by interim president Aram V. Chobanian, who has said he is willing to keep the post as long as necessary. Chobanian recently had heart bypass surgery and has been unable to work full time this semester. There is no indication that his health has led trustees to speed up the search.

D'Alessandro, 53, rejoined the BU trustees last April as part of an effort to overhaul a board that many members said was ruled by a group of insiders loyal to longtime leader John Silber. At the same time, the board adopted major changes to its rules, including setting term limits and stricter rules on conflict of interest.

D'Alessandro, through a spokeswoman, refused to comment yesterday.

Last May, BU established a temporary committee to "develop a strategy and timetable for the next presidential search" and present recommendations to the full board at today's meeting. The committee is cochaired by New York investor Robert A. Knox, vice chairman of the board.

BU officials said that any suggestions would have to be considered by the full board.

"The committee has met, it has done extensive work, and its recommendations are going to be presented, but [decisions are] up to the board," said Alan Leventhal, chairman of the board and a member of the search planning committee. "There's been a lot of work done over the past few months. It has been a very inclusive process, and there has been a lot of outreach to board members to get their guidance."

When Goldin was named president in July 2003, D'Alessandro, then vice chairman of the board, said in an official statement, "Dan Goldin is the independent visionary leader we need to inherit the mantle of John Silber."

But D'Alessandro resigned three weeks later, and several BU sources have since told the Globe that D'Alessandro was among a number of trustees, including Leventhal, who expressed reservations about selecting Goldin. Many trustees now believe that the search process was rushed and that Goldin was not thoroughly vetted.

Today's will be the first formal board meeting without the 10 trustees who left the board as part of the renewal effort. They include close Silber allies Earle Cooley, James Howell, Dexter Dodge, and Leon Hirsch.

However, some longtime board members remain, including Melvin Miller, Peter Vermilye, Christopher Barreca, and Richard Joaquim.

There will be a few new faces, including three international trustees. One, Geneva-based businessman Bahaa Hariri, is the son of a former trustee.

The board also added engineering professor Roscoe Giles to the board. Giles, who heads the faculty council, will be the first faculty member to serve on the board.

Since laying out its overhaul plan, the board has accomplished one of its goals: getting Silber to leave his plush executive offices at the top of the new School of Management building. Over the summer, Silber moved to a smaller set of offices in a two-story brownstone.

Bombardieri can be reached at

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