Politician: John Silber
John Silber is a homophobic patriarch whose dorm-guest policy made it hard for thousands of Boston University students to have overnight trysts (regardless of orientation) during their hormone-charged college years. For that alone, he is hated — and that’s not accounting for his role in disbanding BU’s football team and in alienating high-profile faculty members during his years as BU president. And it’s not just on Comm Ave that Silber’s maligned. When the hard-charging Texan ran for governor of Massachusetts as an über-conservative “Democrat” in 1990, he managed to estrange women, welfare recipients, and immigrants. (He lost.) Recently, the curmudgeon branched out to bash a whole different demographic — architects — in Architecture of the Absurd: How “Genius” Disfigured a Practical Art (Quantuck Lane Press), published in November.
But Silber is a different kind of bigot: a smart one. He’s the kind of enemy we’re not used to these day — one that commands respect, if grudgingly. If you want to go up against this Kant scholar, be intellectually prepared. Silber suffers no politically correct mindless regurgitation. “I think before you protest you ought to know what you’re doing,” he told the Daily Free Press, BU’s independent student newspaper, in 2003. “I think it’s strange when somebody can be an activist on an issue on which he’s totally uninformed.” Whether he’s championing a cause you support (such as education), or spewing offensive vitriol (against gays, for example), you can be sure Silber has studied the issue, and come to what he believes is a reasoned position — and shouldn’t we demand at least that from our opponents? He makes us work harder to defend our positions, and by doing so, he forces rigorous reflection. Silber may have ruined our sex lives, but along the way, he asked a school, a city, and a state to think, hard. If only all adversaries were so inspiring.