John R. Silber, the sharp-tongued, pugnacious public intellectual who, as president of Boston University, oversaw the takeover of the city of Chelsea’s troubled public school system and was later appointed chairman of the Massachusetts board of education, died last week. He was 86.
Mr. Silber, who transformed Boston University during a quarter-century as president and mounted an unsuccessful run for governor of Massachusetts, died of kidney failure at his Brookline home, university spokesman Colin Riley said.
Erudite and combative, Mr. Silber was an outspoken critic of political correctness, communism, and popular culture, but he considered himself a liberal on many issues. He was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1990 but was narrowly defeated by Republican William F. Weld—a loss many blamed on a television interview shortly before the election during which he snapped at a reporter who asked him about his weaknesses. He remained president until 1996, and was university chancellor from 1996 until 2003.
In his role as state board chairman from 1996 to 1999, Mr. Silber battled with state education officials and rejected several drafts of the state’s social studies frameworks, which he claimed were not rigorous enough. He also helped institute the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam, a standardized test that high school students must pass to receive a diploma.
A version of this article appeared in the October 03, 2012 edition of Education Week as Former Chairman of Mass. Board Dies