Reasonable Words About an Unreasonable Man

We only bury saints it’s said, “never speak ill of the dead,” with John Silber of BU fame, or perhaps infamy, being the latest to get the full hagiography.

The Brainiac blog from the Globe tipped me off to at least one naysayer (I seem to remember quite a number during Silber’s contentious BU tenure, and I didn’t even live in Boston during those years. He was a national symbol of a certain flavor of authoritarian academic leader.)

Brainiac quoting philosopher Brian Leiter’s blog:

Silber, who began his career as a Kant scholar (!), but was best-known as a serial violator of academic freedom as the tyrannical ruler of Boston University for more than a quarter-century, has passed away. It’s curious how gullible journalists repeat the myth that he enhanced BU’s academic stature, and cite as evidence a few Nobel Laureates in literature whom he hired in their dotage. Where is the evidence that he helped create and sustain top 20 PhD programs in any fields that didn’t have them? I’m not aware of any–maybe economics? Older philosophers will recall the exodus from the Philosophy Department in the late 1970s and early 1980s (including Alasdair MacIntyre), as philosophers fled the autocracy. (The Department today is probably stronger than it was then, I should add, but much of that happened despite or after Silber over the last 15 years.) I imagine similar things happened in other departments. He may well have improved the school’s finances (as the linked article claims), but it’s not at all clear he improved the academics. That appears to be a self-serving myth he promoted, and which journalists simply repeat.

If you missed the whole Silber era, there’s a nice 60 Minutes piece on him, which I remember watching on TV.

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One Reply to “Reasonable Words About an Unreasonable Man”

  1. Couldnt stand Silber. But he did participate in one of the most artistic moments ever broadcast. During a debate with Chomksy on the old 10 oclock news with Chris Lydon, Sibler repeatedly poked Chomsky, who was sitting next to him, with his stump in an attempt to unnerve him.
    The footage is priceless, should be online somewhere.

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