Incoming head of college backs out

Former chief of NASA clashes with BU officials

November 01, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON - Just one day before he was to take over as the trustees' unanimous choice to lead the nation's fourth-largest private university, Daniel S. Goldin, the former NASA administrator, agreed to walk away from the presidency of Boston University for a reported payment of $1.8 million.

Boston University, whose officials had hailed Goldin only weeks ago as a visionary leader, and Goldin, who had invited the entire faculty to his inauguration on Nov. 17, "terminated their contract and have mutually decided to part company," according to a statement released by Goldin and the university.

University officials would not say how much they paid Goldin, but a person close to the board of trustees provided the figure. Goldin's five-year contract had called for a salary of $750,000 a year, plus numerous benefits.

It was the culmination of a week of drama riveting not only Boston, the nation's capital of higher education, but all of academia, as suspense built over the presidency of Boston University: Would Goldin, known as a fierce infighter, hold onto the job, even after a group of trustees had given him a last-minute vote of no confidence? Why had the trustees turned against Goldin?

And what was the role of John Silber, the chancellor and former president, who has run Boston University with iron control for more than three decades, and who was Goldin's biggest backer, at least until two weeks ago?

"It's the worst example of university management in the history of higher education," said Alan Wolfe, a professor of political science at Boston College and a former faculty member at Boston University who was a critic of Silber.

The university's sudden about-face has raised questions about its leadership, and it could imperil fund raising as well as recruiting of professors and administrators, experts said.

It has already prompted two trustees to resign.

The board named as interim president Aram V. Chobanian, the highly regarded dean of the medical school, who has been at the university for 40 years. Chobanian will serve for an indeterminate time, while the university mounts a new search - its second in less than 18 months.

They also issued a brief statement saying, "Mr. Goldin wishes the students, faculty and staff of Boston University every success. The trustees wish Mr. Goldin the very best in his future endeavors. Neither party will discuss the matter further."

Exactly what caused Goldin's candidacy to collapse remains in dispute. Some sources said that in recent weeks, as he began laying out his plans for the university, the board saw the volatile side of his temperament and began to have serious second thoughts. The trustees had heard reports that Goldin had hired a psychiatrist to evaluate Silber, apparently in an effort to sideline him.

Other sources close to the board paint a far different picture, focusing on Silber's reluctance to relinquish authority, and the wishes of some trustees to protect longstanding business relationships they had with the university.

Goldin's costly settlement package came after he sent the board a four-page memo on Monday, making it clear that he was talking to his lawyers and that he had already sold his house in Washington and was vacating his house in California, and had begun dissolving his consulting business "at great financial sacrifice" in order to take the presidency.

He indicated that he would be ready if the trustees wanted a fight, and expressed amazement that questions had been raised about his temperament.

"I have worked successfully with three presidents of the United States," he wrote.

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