Friday, December 13, 2002

Yet more news from Boston: to my surprise, Cardinal Law has persuaded the Pope to accept his resignation as archbishop of Boston, issuing a statement effusively thanking the Pope for letting him quit and apologizing to everyone who suffered from his "shortcomings". (A petition pleading for Law to resign from his own priests apparently made a considerable impression on the Vatican brass, more so than anything which came out of the laity). It can't yet be clear how much of a difference this will make, but we can only hope. He returns now to a pending subpoena for a grand jury which is looking into his role in the crisis. He's probably safe from criminal charges himself --- due to weak laws here, mere personal negligence, no matter how shocking, is not a crime. But corporations can be indicted for negligence in supervising their employees, so the DA, under heavy public pressure to prosecute something, is trying to build a criminal case against the archdiocese itself.

Things are rough all over here on this Friday the 13th, but fortunately, the troubles of some of our other local institutions are less consequential, and a whole lot more fun for the peanut gallery.

Consider, for instance, Boston University, dominated now as it has been for years, by the contentious and redoubtable John Silber. Silber is aging, and knows he needs a successor --- but his last handpicked successor, Jon Westling, was bounced out by the trustees for his lack of independence and institutional vision. (Which may have been the same thing that got him the job; when he replaced Silber, local wagging tongues wondered if he was just a stand-in, particularly since he had relatively weak credentials, and was known as a protege of Silber, who maintained a strong presence in the newly created post of Chancellor. That story didn't get seem less likely after Westling's departure, when Silber slipped back into his old chair as if he had never left). All of this history isn't entirely a selling point to the candidates that the institution wants, strong leaders who can carry the institution forward, and will not want to have to answer to micromanagement from the trustees ... or from Silber.

Another thing candidates don't want to see is legal entanglements, like a messy lawsuit. And they don't come much messier than the current fracas between B.U. and local philanthropist David Mugar. Eight years ago, Silber personally wheedled a $3 million donation from Mugar for renovations to a library that bears his father's name, threatening, the prospect of a replacement library which would bear the name of a new donor if he didn't pony up. (This is the first donation to B.U. from the junior Mugar, who had no prior personal connection to the university). And then... the renovations never happened, and the donation, according to BU's own official explanation, got "lost".

So, the $3 million library renovation was such a minor matter that funds for it could literally get "lost", even though Silber was personally shaking down donors. Where might it have gone? Well, perhaps to another building project dear to Silber's heart, the new University administration suite affectionately known on campus as the Taj Mahal, which cost more than $30 million to outfit (in two floors of an already-completed building), and includes a 1000-square foot mahogany-paneled office for Silber in addition to the suite for the President-to-be.

BU is now trying to placate Mugar with the offer of a newly named dorm (perhaps one of the dozens of townhouses the University owns on Bay State Road), but Mugar is no longer interested. He just wants the money either returned, or forwarded to other charities. With interest.