John R. Silber, who served as president at Boston University for more than two decades and was an influential - and controversial - figure in Massachusetts politics, died on September 27 of kidney failure. He was 86.
Dr. Silber is credited with bringing Boston University from a commuter school to new levels of academic excellence, and was nearly elected governor of Massachusetts in 1990, losing narrowly to Bill Weld.
Dr. Silber began at Boston University in 1971, served as president until 1996, then as University chancellor until 2003. During his tenure at BU, Dr. Silber expanded the university's campus, recruited accomplished professors and faculty, and improved BU's reputation considerably. Dr. Silber was widely known for his jarring and outspoken personality, which was often controversial.
“In the seven years I have served this wonderful institution, I have come to appreciate the magnitude of what John Silber accomplished at Boston University,” University President Robert A. Brown told BU Today. “He worked tirelessly to transform the University, introducing ever higher standards in the hiring and promotion of faculty and admission of students. There were some who found fault with his candor, and those who disagreed with him on some policy or decision, but nobody can deny John’s legacy. He was famously outspoken and unhesitant in decision-making. He left an indelible imprint on Boston University and set the foundation for the course to greatness that we are steering today. We owe John a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
In addition to Boston University, Dr. Silber was also dedicated to the city of Boston.
“He was one of the smartest people I ever knew," said Mayor Tom Menino in a statement. "His passion for education spanned every corner of our state. It wasn’t just in speeches or policy – under his leadership Boston University provided the resources to our students in the form of scholarships and PILOT payments – he gave opportunity to thousands of Boston Public School students and that legacy continues today. The city of Boston could not have asked for a better friend. He will be missed.”