Historical revisionism, AKA lying about the past, seems to be a popular sport these days. Consider The New York Times. “All the news that’s fit to print” says its famous motto. But is what our paper of record prints really news, i.e., things that actually happened? Take the recent article about John Silber, the former president of Boston University. The Times regularly ran hostile pieces about Mr. Silber when he was president of B.U., and they continued the practice throughout his years as Chancellor of the university and, now, as president emeritus. After all, Mr. Silber had the temerity to take a moribund, near-bankrupt institution and transform it into a thriving university. He vastly raised intellectual standards, among professors as well as students. Unforgivably, he insisted that the primary purpose of a university was not to pursue an antinomian, counter- cultural agenda but to educate students.

Absent Mr. Silber’s active involvement in the affairs of B.U., the university has been slipping quietly back to sclerotic mediocrity and adherence to politically correct platitudes. So it is no surprise that the current university administration has been furiously distancing itself from Mr. Silber and his legacy of excellence. The latest evidence of this was in a May 10 story in the Times. “Boston U. Gave Ex-Chief $6.1 Million, Officials Disclose” screamed the headline. The story began thus: “Officials at Boston University disclosed yesterday that the institution’s long-term president and chancellor, John R. Silber, collected $6.1 million last year, two years after he stepped down as leader. The money includes $3.3 million in deferred compensation from the 32 years that Dr. Silber worked at the university.” Gosh. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Why should a university “give” its ex-president $6.1 million? The long article is a tissue of insinuations, ending, as is de rigueur these days, with a reference to Enron, just in case you missed the fishy aroma.

Mr. Silber was quick to correct the record, though as of this writing the Times has not deigned to publish his correction. Here are a few highlights from his response: “The University made no—zero—contribution to my deferred compensation. That fund was created entirely from my salary that I deferred; it was simply my personal savings account.” So the university didn’t “give” the money, after all; Mr. Silber earned it and was prudent enough to save it. Towards the end of the article, the Times quotes Alan Leventhal, the Chairman of the B.U.’s Board of Trustees, who pontificated that while John Silber was paid handsomely, “we are in a new era today” and “the University has tightened its procedures for determining fair executive compensation.” Oh, really? After thirty years, the Trustees of B.U. raised Mr. Silber’s salary to $770,000—a tidy sum, no doubt. But Robert Brown, the new president, stepped in on day one to a salary of $780,000. How’s that for tightened procedures?

We don’t begrudge President Brown the money, by the way: we simply note the double standard. “I did not take the presidency of Boston University for the perks,” Mr. Silber noted in his response to the piece in the Times, “but for the opportunity to transform an institution.” We look at what Mr. Silber did for Boston University and recall that old bit of folk wisdom: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 24 Number 10, on page 1
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