John Silber has died at the age of eighty-six, thus confirming Billy Joel's view ["Only the good die young."] Silber was trained as a philosopher, and early in his career he wrote several decent articles about Kant's ethical theory, one of which I anthologized in my 1967 book Kant: A Collection of Critical Essays. It is hard to imagine a person in whom the philosophical temperament was less manifest. Indeed, it was Silber who is responsible for the only time in my entire life that I voted for a Republican. He managed somehow to get the Democratic Party nomination in 1990 for the office of Governor of Massachusetts, and after much anguish, I decided -- correctly, I think, in retrospect -- that the Republican, William Weld was by far the less objectionable of the two.
There are many things to reproach Silber for, his homophobia among others, but it was in his twenty-five year long presidency of Boston University that he fully revealed himself as completely devoid of any comprehension of, or respect for, the guiding principles of Academe. He bullied the faculty, did everything in his power to destroy the faculty union, drove good people on the faculty to leave, and comported himself as a pint-sized dictator. [He also blocked my appointment to a professorship in the B. U. Philosophy Department, through his cat's paw, Jon Westling, but since in the end my failure to join the B. U. faculty worked out well, I do not hold that against him.]
Those of us in the Philosophy game like to believe that a serious engagement with our field of study will have the effect of leading us to wisdom as well as tenure, and though professional philosophers [an oxymoron if ever there was one] are not generally wiser or more possessed of the virtue of gravitas than those in other fields of academic work, they are generally a pretty humane lot. If one were to draw a curve plotting philosophical knowledge against common human decency, that tiny blip at the far end of the curve, completely removed from the general locus of points, would be John Silber.
I cannot imagine that anyone will mourn his loss.