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Few ‘Silber shockers’ in late BU president’s FBI dossier

Background checks were done in 1983 and 1987 on John R. Silber, who was appointed to three separate commission posts during the Reagan administra-tion.
Background checks were done in 1983 and 1987 on John R. Silber, who was appointed to three separate commission posts during the Reagan administra-tion.Credit: Tom Herde/Globe Staff/File 1999

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John R. Silber led a very public life, overseeing the transformation of Boston University, nearly becoming governor or Massachusetts and getting into so many scrapes with critics that his penchant for provocative rejoinders even had a name, the “Silber shocker.”

But FBI agents who did background checks on Silber in the 1980s managed to unearth a few secrets, sort of: In 1949, he he failed a graduate course at the University of Texas at Austin.

The 516-page FBI file, compiled when Silber was appointed to three presidential panels during the Reagan administration, is packed with testimonials to the irascible Silber’s patriotism, work ethic, dedication to family and even his legendary stubbornness.

“The appointee is of very, very fine character, a great scholar, very patriotic,” gushed Arthur Metcalf, chairman of BU’s board of trustees in 1983. “The only criticism he has concerning the appointee is the appointee’s lack of patience with ‘suffering fools.’”

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