RIP John Silber – I’m glad we had a moment

John Silber in his office at BU

Former BU President John Silber died this morning. He was a controversial President of BU who also ran for Governor of Massachusetts. I had the privilege to challenge President Silber on an issue I felt was important at the time – discrimination against gay people. I always respected him as a gifted educator and orator who’s passion for my alma mater helped raise it’s academic excellence. Below is a letter I wrote to the The Daily Free Press at BU a few years ago, when the University (after years of stalling), finally included sexual orientation in its non-discrimination clause. What follows is John Silber’s retort where he actually qualifies sexual orientation including pedophilia, bestiality and incest.

I can assure you, contrary to President Silber’s recollection of our dialogue below, he was pretty mad I challenged him on this issue. His passion for debate was second to none.

RIP President Silber.


Silber cause of clause delay

Published: Wednesday, December 8, 2004
I was glad to hear of the University’s decision of including “sexual orientation” in its non-discrimination clause. While attending Boston University, I wrote several letters to then-President John Silber questioning the reason for the university’s obstinacy to adding the phrase “sexual orientation” to its clause, even while other reputable universities (such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University) had all moved forward by including the phrase in their non-discrimination statement. I got no response. Then, in December of 1991, I got my answer.I was attending a student government holiday party at the George Sherman Union when I noticed our then-president feasting alone on some hors d’oeuvres. I went up to him and asked him point-blank why the university didn’t include sexual orientation in its policy of non-discrimination. He turned red, then mumbled, swallowed his food and lashed out – “God damnit, you people are already protected, what does it matter that we have it in our clause?” I responded by telling him that black people, physically challenged people and veterans were already protected as well and they were included. He waved me away, turned around and said, “But they need it!” Visibly upset, he walked away. I realized it would be a long time before the university would adopt this change – not until John Silber loosened his bigoted stranglehold on the university’s social policies.

Until he did, BU would lag behind most of our nation’s prestigious universities that provided anti-discrimination protection to its gay students and employees. How refreshing to see BU once again climb out from Silber’s shadow and reclaim itself as one of the nation’s most progressive universities.

William Mullin
COM ’92


Silber speaks out on non-discrimination stance

William Mullin’s Wednesday letter (“Silber cause of clause delay,” p. 6) is an entirely fictional account of our meeting, one contrived to serve his agenda.

I was confronted on several occasions, perhaps including the one Mullin reports, on why I was opposed to including in our non-discrimination policy “no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” My reply was never off the cuff and did not involve my getting red or lashing out. Rather, it was a set piece, an answer that I have given on dozens of occasions when I have explained the Board of Trustees’ refusal to include that phrase in our policy.

I pointed out that in all the years that I had served as president of Boston University, I had not received any complaint about discrimination against homosexuals either from students or the faculty. I observed that we never inquired about the sexual orientation of students in the process of admissions, nor were there any policies in our disciplinary code designed to punish homosexual behavior. With regard to employees, I personally participated in the recruitment of many homosexual members of the faculty and staff. I also appointed several homosexuals over the course of years to the staff of the President’s office. As a matter of fact, when this issue came up some years ago, The Daily Free Press published a statement by one of my former employees in which he noted that my treatment of him had always been entirely proper, with not a trace of discrimination.

The reason I, with the concurrence of the Board, refused to add the phrase “no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation” is that there are more sexual orientations than just those that involve consenting adults, whether homosexuals or heterosexuals. To refuse to discriminate with regard to these other orientations would require the acceptance and thus the endorsement by Boston University of pedophilia, incest and bestiality. I added that Boston University would definitely discriminate against anyone with these orientations. I added in my meetings with Mullin and other individuals that if they wanted the statement added, it must be less inclusive so that it does not authorize activities that no morally responsible institution could accept.

Now that the university has adopted this policy, I am confident that it will not be observed without important reservations. By adopting it, the university is certainly more PC. I acknowledge straight off that political correctness was a standard to which I did not rally. I believe we were not founded to pursue ideologies but rather to pursue the truth.

Having offered the response I gave to Mullin and anyone else when the issue has been raised, it is preposterous for anyone to believe his fictional account. Criticize if you please the position I actually took over a period of 30 years, but not the fictional position offered by William Mullin.

John Silber

John Silber is president emeritus of Boston University.

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