Faculty at Boston University (BU) were left shaking their heads in disbelief last week after trustees asked former NASA chief Daniel Goldin to back out of the university's presidency 24 hours before he was supposed to take office. But the fiasco over Goldin's botched appointment may contain a silver lining for them: A bigger role in the governance of the country's fourth-largest private university.
Goldin earned a reputation as an efficient, tough-talking NASA administrator with his "faster, better, cheaper" motto. Over the summer, he accepted BU's offer of the presidency on the condition that John Silber step down as chancellor and trustee. Silber ran BU as president or chancellor for 30 years, but Goldin's insistence on sole control of the helm pressured Silber into retirement. "Silber's departure presents an opportunity for giving the faculty a greater role in governing the university," says biomedical engineer Herbert Voigt, chair of BU's faculty council, some of whose members have been strongly opposed to Silber's top-down style of management.
Goldin accepted the university's reported offer of $1.8 million to walk away from the job. Goldin made statements that "the board did not find to its liking," says Christopher Barreca, chair of the board. "We concluded that it had been a mistake to offer him the job." Although neither man is talking about the affair, sources say the board was alarmed by Goldin's apparent intention to shake up the university's top administration and his reported questioning of financial ties between some of the trustees and the university.
Some former colleagues at NASA, where Goldin ruffled many feathers but succeeded in streamlining operations, are surprised by the timetable of his actions. It's not as if he is unfamiliar with "the need to make intelligent compromises," says Courtney Stadd, former NASA chief of staff. "You can't survive 10 years as head of NASA without a capacity to adapt."