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Goldin's `hit list' stunned trustees

Boston University's Board of Trustees selected Daniel S. Goldin as president in July after a rushed search and only one brief meeting with him, then found themselves stunned by a series of demands from Goldin, including his plans to fire almost all of BU's top administrators and to live part time at his home in Malibu, Calif., several BU officials and sources close to the trustees said yesterday.

Goldin, the former NASA chief who accepted a $1.8 million buyout Thursday night in exchange for forfeiting the presidency he was to assume yesterday, had in recent weeks developed what BU sources called a "hit list" of campus officials whose loyalty he doubted because of their ties to outgoing leader John Silber and to several longtime BU trustees.

In the days leading up to a climactic Oct. 16 meeting, only his second with the full board, Goldin informed some BU board members and faculty that he was seeking "a fresh start" for the university and that he wanted to overhaul the establishment that Silber had built since taking over BU in 1971.

In doing so, Goldin made clear he intended to replace longtime leaders, including provost Dennis Berkey and treasurer Kenneth Condon; several deans, including Ronald Cass at the law school; and trustee favorites such as Christopher Reaske, the fund-raising chief who has built a sophisticated development operation that has set $100 million annual records recently, according to BU sources. Berkey and Cass were finalists for the BU presidency this summer.

Several trustees pronounced themselves "surprised" by Goldin's actions and seeming distrust. Yet the Globe has learned that there were red flags along the way that suggested Goldin might prove a poor fit with BU's culture and administration.

According to BU sources and members of the presidential search committee, Silber -- as a member of the committee and a Goldin supporter -- commanded such respect and fear that some committee members kept their doubts about Goldin to themselves. Silber came to embrace Goldin at the behest of a BU trustee, Gerald S.J. Cassidy, whose role in the search process suggested a conflict of interest to several committee members. Cassidy is head of a Washington consulting firm that has earned millions of dollars in lobbying fees from BU over the years; he is a close friend of Silber and Goldin; and, by helping negotiate a multimillion-dollar contract for Goldin to succeed Silber, Cassidy probably stood to gain continued business and support from BU in future years, the BU sources say.

In hindsight, Silber's presence on the search committee was a major error, several committee members and BU sources said yesterday. He established Goldin as the front-runner, seeing him as a strong leader who could help land big donations and lucrative federal grants. Silber refused to brook any criticism of Goldin when skeptics finally raised concerns, sources said.

"Silber was getting lots of input on Goldin's negatives, but ignoring it. Some individuals approached him personally to plead the mistake, to no avail," said one senior BU official who is close to several trustees.

As the search committee began interviewing candidates, factions among the trustees had different goals for the future of the university, yet the same objective in the search -- to hire a president quickly, according to a source close to the trustees. Silber, 77, very much wanted to retire, in spite of his continued close management of the university, the source said. At the same time, some trustees who were critical of Silber, led by DreamWorks movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, wanted to marginalize Silber as soon as possible.

"If there ever was a perfect storm, this was it," the source said. "Katzenberg and Silber were enemies of some note, but both had similar objectives -- for Silber to leave fast. So the process became a lot less thorough."

That led to a "derailed" hiring process, in which no one fully vetted Goldin despite the "due diligence" expected of university trustees, said one senior BU official and two members of the presidential search committee.

A number of trustees had serious concerns about the rush. Some wanted to wait until the Columbia Accident Investigation Board released its report, fearing it would implicate Goldin in NASA failings that led to the shuttle disaster, said the source close to trustees. When the report was released in August, it described his tenure as one of "continuous turmoil."

Some trustees had other reservations. Goldin made it clear at his first interview with the search committee that he wanted to spend a lot of time at the house he was building in Malibu, where his wife would be living. BU agreed to provide him first-class plane tickets to the West Coast on a regular basis, the source said.

"He said he didn't think he had to be on campus every weekend to be effective," the source said.

But it was clear, from the time in early July when Goldin was introduced to the board, that Silber was strongly behind him, several sources tell the Globe. The source close to trustees added that scientists on the search committee were especially enthralled with Goldin, who would presumably be able to bring in more research grants.

Some trustees considered Goldin too arrogant from his first appearance before the committee, which one source said went so badly that Cassidy suddenly announced that Goldin had to make a flight, and whisked him away.

According to the source, Goldin told the search committee: "I will do my job. If I'm not doing my job, my resignation is always in my top drawer. Any time you want it, it's yours."

Among those who expressed reservations about Goldin were John Hancock chief executive David D'Alessandro; real estate investor Alan Leventhal; retired real estate mogul Richard B. DeWolfe; and BU alumni association head Judie Friedberg-Chessin, the source said.

At the final meeting before the full board on July 8, few besides D'Alessandro and Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of former President Lyndon Johnson, asked Goldin tough questions. D'Alessandro and Goldin had a testy exchange, where D'Alessandro asked Goldin about Silber's role and Goldin said he wouldn't take the job if Silber remained as chancellor or as a trustee.

The room sat in stunned silence, said the source, as Goldin became aggressive and asked D'Alessandro, "What would you do if you were president?"

D'Alessandro answered, "You're not interviewing me, I'm interviewing you."

D'Alessandro resigned from the board three weeks later.

A number of trustees went privately to Silber to express their reservations, but the chancellor was unmoved, the source said.

With Silber's strong backing, Goldin had the tacit approval of many trustees and seemed to have the votes to get the job. The board's chairman, Christopher A. Barreca, asked the group to vote unanimously as a signal of support. They agreed.

Leventhal and some other trustees also were concerned that BU had offered Goldin a job when there had been no discussion of his contract. "Look, we're going to give Goldin all the leverage here," Leventhal told other trustees.

Sources have said that Goldin essentially received everything he asked for in his contract.

Despite the unanimous vote, there wasn't much enthusiasm for Goldin, the source said, adding that of more than 40 trustees, only 10 or 12 showed up for a dinner with Goldin and his wife the night he was offered the job.

As soon as Goldin had the job offer, he began alienating the people who'd just hired him. He "went berserk" when Silber changed his mind about leaving the board of trustees, said the source. Goldin also demanded that Silber leave his large executive offices, said the source, adding, however, that meetings between Silber and Goldin about the issue were civil.

Goldin also began questioning the conduct of the BU board, talking to some trustees about a new federal law, passed after the collapse of Enron, that promotes good governance and limits conflicts of interest on the boards of for-profit companies.

Ultimately, he decided, "If you can't kill the king, kill all the princes," the source said. "That was his fatal mistake."

For many trustees, the final straw came at the board meeting on Oct. 16, when Goldin made a distressed, emotional speech that he felt he lacked the support of the trustees and thus couldn't do his job properly. Goldin was so worked up, Barreca took him out of the room for more than an hour. The two returned later without an explanation for what took place, the source said.

Even so, many trustees still wanted to accommodate him, and the board rescinded a bylaw they'd passed earlier in the day to which Goldin had objected.

The Goldin controversy has left many BU professors and students deeply embarrassed; Silber, the normally fiery spokesman for BU's interests, has stepped down from the Board of Trustees and has refused interview requests. Many top trustees, meanwhile, say they are determined to right themselves and the university.

As for Goldin, he declined to comment yesterday about BU, citing the confidentiality requirement of his severance agreement. He added that he's reconsolidating his companies and plans to focus on a high-technology business.

"I am really looking forward to the future," Goldin said. "I have some incredible business opportunities -- people have called me already."

Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com. Healy can be reached at phealy@globe.com.

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