• Joel Brown

    Staff Writer

    Portrait of Joel Brown. An older white man with greying brown hair, beard, and mustache and wearing glasses, white collared shirt, and navy blue blazer, smiles and poses in front of a dark grey background.

    Joel Brown is a staff writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. He’s written more than 700 stories for the Boston Globe and has also written for the Boston Herald and the Greenfield Recorder. Profile

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There are 11 comments on Determined? Divisive? Misunderstood? John Silber, Seen through His Daughter’s Eyes

  1. Interesting that you note he was “divisive” and “controversial” but didn’t mention why. Would have loved more details on his history of bigotry and discrimination, including racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism.

  2. I have no doubt that portrait of Silber that his daughter writes about in her book is true. But it’s only just a facet of his personality, and so we should be able to recognize that the two ideas of “Silber was a man of principle and loving father” and “Silber made life more difficult and dealt much harm to BU’s LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff” can both be true at the same time.

  3. During my four years at BU in the ‘80s, it’s safe to state that Silber was not beloved by the student body. He could be caustic, demeaning and completely inflexible. Talk about strong opinions … yet there can be no doubt he accomplished great things for BU and put the university on the path toward greatness.

  4. This loving portrait is a reminder that a disinterested examination of John Silber’s Boston years has still to be written. He and Jean Mayer at Tufts sucked all the oxygen out of Boston higher education with their panache and ability to grab headlines. Suddenly two formerly “second banana” universities were getting all the attention with pork barrel earmarks for a veterinary school, photonics, and barrels of government money directed to these two schools by Washington lobbyists Gerald Cassidy and Ken Schlossberg. Silber and Mayer also knew how to walk the halls of the State House. Senate Presidents and Speakers of the House Kevin Harrington, William Bulger, Tom Birmingham, Tom McGee, George Keverian, Charlie Flaherty, and Tom Finneran were frequent companions. It’s a story yet to be told.

  5. He was quite controversial and, as another reader commented, not beloved by the students nor the faculty. However, he was quite an impressive man.

    I remember that during the faculty strike in -Oh, when was it? 1979?- he came to Warren Towers (“The Zoo”) to meet with students. Several students rose to challenge him with their comments and questions. He demolished every single one of their arguments, and even humiliated a couple of them. I supported the professors, but I learned a lot that day about the Silber’s and the administration position.

  6. There was an anniversary of a sporting event, perhaps the Beanpot, in which people were formally dressed up. A young female student reporter who was regularly on TV for BU games interviewed John Silber at intermission. She was dressed up and light-heartedly asked why he wasn’t wearing a tuxedo? He reprimanded her for questioning him about it and she was off the show the next week and thereafter. That has stuck with me all these years.

  7. Sitting in my BU office reading The Globe one morning, I was shocked to read David Silber’s obituary. I had no idea John Silber’s son had died and that he had died from AIDS. Not a word about his death in any BU publication. Not a word of sympathy was expressed. “I don’t want to talk about it.” THAT is the John Silber I knew.

  8. This university would be truly great if not for all these dam stucdents and teachers. Silber never said that but he very well could have. Books written by children of the protagonist are very bad at looking objectively at the subject. she writes above that her father never “belittled”. you can stop reading anything she writes after that. The mans most famous trait was belittling someone. He was an exceptionaly inteligent and talented man and he used that to BELITTLE EVERYONE whom he considered lower than his status. The was an ongoing well known running joke at BU while I was there. he would show up at the awrds dinner for students involved in extra circular activites. This groups attendees ranged from the team captain of the sports teams to the captain of the debate team. He used his time during speaker remarks to BELITTLE everyone for doin extra circular activities and not focusing more time in the academic gridiron. I think he must of thought we were all athletes, people he clearly detested, and not the leaders of various groups including those which were academic. the doddering old fool didn’t even do the research on who he was speaking to and he continued to do it year after year. I also remember him not seating the democratically elected student council because they did not receive 50% of the vote. multiple groups ran thus fractioning the vote but this group won the majority. He didn’t know how elections worked! And don’t get me started about his do nothing approach on apartheid…sorry Rachel. there were more people who didn’t like your father, with good reason, than did.

  9. From looking at his wikipedia page, it seems like he was too liberal for the University of Texas and too conservative for BU. Good for him, if you ask me.

    Unrelated, what is the Chancellor of BU’s job? Do we currently have one, and if so what are their responsibilities?

    And, doesn’t John Silber look a heck of a lot like Jason Bateman?

  10. I joined the BU School of Social Work faculty in 1985 and was elected to serve on the University-wide Faculty Council. I was elected to Chair this 30 person Council and began my tenure with the release of a detailed report of Silber’s and Provost Jon Weslings systematic efforts to stiffle academic freedom. In particular younger non-tenured faculty, who were working on issues of racism and sexism in their research, were informed by the Provost that if they continued this work they would not get tenure. I was told my tenured appointment was also at risk if the Council published the report. We held an open vote with 29 Council members, 15 of them non-tenured, voting to publish. It was one of my proudest days as a member of faculty. This vote was supported at the following Umiversity-wide Faculty Council meeting with a huge attendance. I was not fired although without this support I probably would have been.

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