Presidential farce costs over $3.6m

November 14, 2003

One of the most bizarre stories of presidential succession in American higher education history has exposed a culture of gamesmanship and expensive executive perks at the fourth-biggest private university in the US.

The trustees of Boston University hired former space agency administrator Daniel Goldin to be the school's next president. But the day before he was to take office, they withdrew the offer and paid him $1.8 million (£1 million) in severance for a job he never held.

Trustees, most of them speaking off the record, said that they were concerned about Mr Goldin's "temperament". This decision is ironic considering that BU was run for more than three decades by the famously temperamental John Silber.

In 1996, Dr Silber initially installed his provost, Jon Westling, as president, and took the title of chancellor for himself. But he soon soured on Mr Westling, and in 2000 accepted his resignation, before stepping back into the role of acting president himself.

Dr Silber then pushed for the appointment of Mr Goldin. The candidacy was also pressed by the university attorney, Gerald Cassidy, a friend of both Dr Silber and Mr Goldin, whose firm is a beneficiary of millions of dollars in BU work.

Trustees went along without giving Mr Goldin much scrutiny, they say now.

Many trustees are close associates of Dr Silber and have businesses that make millions of dollars from contracts with the university.

Three members of the board did resign during the process: Dave D'Alessandro, the president of the John Hancock financial services company; Kenneth Feld, the owner of Ringling Bros Circus; and Jeffrey Katzenberg, a co-founder of the Hollywood studio DreamWorks SKG.

Trustees say they were shocked when Mr Goldin told them that he planned to fire almost all of BU's top administrators and live part time in his home 3,000 miles away in California. They say he was arrogant and hostile during his interviews for the job. Yet they hired him at an annual salary of $750,000, which is almost triple the salary paid to the president of Harvard University.

Dr Silber, who is 77, resigned as chancellor on the same day that Mr Goldin's job offer was withdrawn, though he had previously said that he already planned to do so. He stood to collect at least $1.3 million for unused sabbaticals, and trustees have forgiven $500,000 in principal on two loans made to Dr Silber by the university.

Neither Dr Silber nor Mr Goldin has commented on the fiasco.

Mr Goldin signed a non-disclosure agreement as part of his settlement with BU. Outraged faculty are now demanding more representation on the board of trustees, and students are fuming about the extraordinary payoffs.

The dean of BU's medical school, 74-year-old Aram Chobanian, has been named interim president.

"As a physician, I have experience in the healing process," Dr Chobanian wrote in an open letter to the campus.

The date of Mr Goldin's scheduled inauguration, which had been declared a university holiday, will at least remain a day off for the 28,000 students and 3,200 faculty.

"We paid $1.8 million for that day off - we definitely should have it," one student told the BU Daily Free Press campus newspaper.

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