Wednesday, March 23, 2011

John Silber

One of the more curious cause celebres for MIT's small but vocal coterie of Ayn Rand worshipers was John Silber, who became president of Boston University in the '70s and later ran for governor of Massachusetts in 1990 - and lost. His defeat brought in Massachusetts' first Republican governor since the Cabots had stopped talking to the Lodges, or at least since the days of Richard Nixon. The reason Silber was such a favorite of the pointy-headed purveyors of ego(t)ism was that he was seen as the Rugged Individual determined to bring Academic Excellence to his campus, even if it meant running roughshod over his faculty, which had exhibited the audacity to actually form a union and demand its collective bargaining rights. Excellence, in Silber's case, meant pocketing a nice little retirement package worth about $6 million, which he did in 2006, after having paid himself $800,000 a year, a salary that would normally only be permitted to the football coach at the University of Texas (in the humble opinion of those who preach Libertarian thought and Selfishness as a Virtue, nothing connotes Academic Excellence like having a university president who gets paid huge gobs of money while pleading poverty for his school).
The reason I mention the University of Texas is that John Silber was a professor of philosophy (no wonder the Objectivists all loved him!) and the Dean of the Arts Department there, before he ended up at BU. This was in his more liberal years, when he actually promoted ideas like racial equality and ending capital punishment. Ideas like that could get you skinned in Texas in 1970, but that's not what ended his tenure in Austin. Silber, the rugged individualist, happened to run afoul of an even more rugged individualist by the name of Frank Erwin, who ran the Board of Regents and was the nearest thing to God that anyone could think of (these days his name adorns a basketball arena - one that the local wags used to call the Super Drum because of its round shape, until Erwin threatened to sue). Silber was outta there like spit through a tuba, landing on the BU campus.

Because his exploits made him a hero to the Ergomaniacs, I felt compelled to knock John Silber down a peg. The voters of Massachusetts would not get that privilege until 14 years later.


  1. I know it's hard to be unfair to Silber, but IIRC he ended up as edu chief for Boston or Mass and had a positive impact on K-12 there. Also, he did pretty much singlehandedly raise BU to a Carnegie Research I institution. Sheer bullying sometimes has positive results. When he left BU, though, the successor/BoT struggle was ug-ly, IIRC.

  2. @Tim: Let me get this right. You are writing in support of Silber? I think I see hell freezing over now!

  3. Silber was a god amongst men. I just wish Rand would have written a book about him. So much more fun than seeing Howard Roark getting his butt kicked by life...until he wins...