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BU revokes offer to Goldin; severance said to be $1.8m

Interim chief is dean of medical school

Boston University's Board of Trustees revoked its job offer to incoming president Daniel S. Goldin yesterday, appointed a new interim president, and set in motion a plan to review its own governance.

The trustees paid Goldin $1.8 million to walk away from the job he was supposed to start today, according to sources close to the trustees, and avoided a vote on the issue by negotiating the deal Thursday night.

The trustees named the dean of BU's medical school, Dr. Aram V. Chobanian, the university's interim president. Instead of the hard-charging and intense Goldin, who headed NASA for a decade, the university will be led by a 74-year-old internal administrator described by one trustee yesterday as "serene."

The board has not yet named a new presidential search committee.

In yesterday's emergency meeting, trustees also accepted the resignation of outgoing chancellor John Silber from the board, meaning that for the first time since 1971, Silber has no official role in the university's power structure. The board named him president emeritus in October.

BU leaders are hoping that the decisions made yesterday, including the move to reexamine how the Board of Trustees conducts business, will allow the university to reclaim a measure of stability after a leadership crisis that has left many faculty, students, and alumni deeply worried about the school's future.

In an open letter to the BU community yesterday, Chobanian wrote that he will attempt to move forward quickly from the "difficult transition in leadership."

"As a physician, I have experience in the healing process and am confident that such healing can be achieved relatively quickly at Boston University," Chobanian wrote, adding that he was approached about the job "in the last few days."

Goldin declined to comment but his lawyer, Robert Barnett, said, "Mr. Goldin and I are pleased that this matter was resolved amicably.

"Mr. Goldin has a lot of fascinating opportunities which he will now pursue in a positive way," Barnett added. "He certainly wishes Boston University all the very best."

BU expressed similar sentiments in an official joint statement from Goldin and the university.

"Mr. Goldin wishes the students, faculty, and staff of Boston University every success," the statement said in part. "The Trustees wish Mr. Goldin the very best in his future endeavors. Neither party will discuss this matter further."

BU's outside counsel, R. Robert Popeo, said Goldin "terminated any claim he might have had with Boston University."

Negotiations between Goldin and the school had been underway since last Friday when the 24-member executive board of the trustees voted no confidence in Goldin, Popeo said.

Despite that vote last week, yesterday was the first time that BU officially acknowledged the vote of no confidence or indicated that Goldin might not take office today.

"There was a conclusion that Mr. Goldin would not be the right person to serve as president of Boston University," Popeo said in a news conference in the executive suites above the School of Management where all but a few trustees gathered yesterday.

"There was no incident, if you will, that was a specific catalyst," Popeo said. "Rather there was a host of issues including style, the kind of person that was necessary to lead this university, temperament and other issues that both parties reflected upon."

Over the past week, a number of sources have said that trustees came to feel that Goldin was rude and aggressive in his efforts to solidify control, that he planned to fire many of Silber's appointees around BU, that he wanted to dominate the trustees, and that he would allow no role for Silber. "There can only be one President," he wrote in a letter to trustees Monday.

At Goldin's request, Silber had pledged to step down entirely, but later decided to stay on the board and its executive committee. He could not be reached for comment.

"May I assure, this was never about John Silber," trustee Dexter Dodge, the vice chairman, said during the press conference, countering news reports about Goldin's concerns with Silber. "In the past, in the present, and going forward, that distinguished gentleman just had no part. It is the fiduciary responsibility of a trustee to do what is best for the university."

Dodge, a Silber loyalist who has been leading recent trustee meetings because Christopher A. Barreca is reportedly in ill health, said he would lead the new ad hoc committee on governance. The other members have not been named, but the committee will look at "board structure, composition, and organization," and "define the search process for the next president," according to a BU statement.

Some of the trustees who have been lobbying for a wholesale shake-up of the board in the wake of the derailed presidential search were pleased yesterday that the board appeared to accept the fact that it had to change.

"Just the fact that there was a general recognition that governance should be overhauled, in thoughtful process, is a pretty important step," said a source close to the trustees, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There have been several recent resignations of trustees who were unhappy with recent events. In addition to Silber, another resignation was announced yesterday, that of John Seffrin. BU said Seffrin stepped down because he was unable to attend meetings in Boston.

Much of yesterday's meeting, which lasted about three hours, consisted of Popeo briefing trustees on the confidential terms of the settlement with Goldin. BU's employment contract with the incoming president would have paid him a salary of $750,000 a year for five years, plus extensive benefits and a severance package that would take effect once he assumed office.

Many were pleased that BU's obligation to Goldin would be limited to $1.8 million, the source said.

Chobanian's appointment had already been decided, and he appeared at the meeting to accept the job. He insisted that he would only take the job if he had the full powers of the presidency, the source said.

Chobanian got the nod in part because, at age 74, he doesn't want to become the permanent president and because he is seen as a man with a stature of his own, separate from Silber, several BU sources said yesterday.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com.

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