John Silber, tough witness, R.I.P.

John Silber, the former Boston University president who passed away last Thursday, September 27th, was known for many things. I tussled with him here and there, such as when he tried to fire some leftist members of the faculty whose academic freedom, I thought, protected them from such action. However, I also witnessed his principled attempt to fight back against the idiocy of the university thought police that remains a plague in American higher education.

In my most recent piece for, however, I tell a less well-known Silber story that illustrates his courage and integrity. In 1986, federal prosecutors tried to get Silber to finger then Boston Mayor Kevin White in a corruption investigation of City Hall. They subpoenaed Silber to testify before a secret anti-corruption grand jury. Instead of invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, Silber took the witness stand and told it like it is. The feds proved not up to the task of getting Silber (in Alan Dershowitz’ immortal phrase) not only to sing, but also to compose.

The column after the jump...

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The Lying Witness, the Dank Cellar, and the Dingy Coffee Shop

William Weld famously won 109 out of the 111 cases his office prosecuted when he was US Attorney for Massachusetts. I am quite proud to be one of the two blemishes on his career. All it took was overzealous prosecutors, unscrupulous federal agents, a lying witness (hardly unusual in federal criminal trials), and the basement of a dingy coffee shop.

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