Short-pants Marxists

Last January, the Phoenix published "Defending the Universally Loathed," a piece in which we defended (what we believed to be) wrongly maligned music, books, people, and countries (among other things). My contribution was to grudgingly laud the former Boston University president/chancellor that everyone loves to hate: John Silber. 

Today, someone sent me this interview with Silber, in which he talks about his tenuous relationship over the years with the Daily Free Press, BU's student newspaper. It really encapsulates everything I was trying to convey back then. Aside from the fact that he labels one former critic a "short-pants Marxist" -- a description that I love and will try to use frequently from here on out, regardless of whether or not it makes sense in context -- his dry, humorous, intellectual pedagogy really shines. Consider this exchange as an example:

A university’s mission is to educate. What do you think your adversarial approach to the student press, and the media at large, taught young people at BU?
I did not position myself as an adversary of the student press. The student press picked me as their adversary, along with presidents at almost every campus in the nation. Students should be responsible. When they are irresponsible, they should expect to be challenged and corrected. Unfortunately, at the time I came, in 1971, students all over the country were intoxicated with the search for power. This led them to believe that all persons in positions of authority were their adversaries.

I came to Boston University to be their teacher. My job was not simply to be an academic officer of the University, balancing budgets and trying to recruit ever more distinguished faculty. I was there to educate. When students said things that were ill-informed or illogical, I made it my point to correct them. That’s a teacher’s job.

And this! (emphasis added)

You and DFP founder Charlie Radin [who now works at Brandeis, after a long career at the Boston Globe] had a combative relationship, but now are fond of each other. Can you explain the evolution?
I was introduced to Charlie Radin at the first Senior Breakfast, where he got up to try to persuade all the graduates to refuse to buy caps and gowns and to attend graduation in their disheveled outfits. He proposed that the $5 that would have been used for caps and gowns be given to a charitable organization in Boston.

In response to his remarks I said that I applauded their decision to give funds to the organization they had selected and that I hoped each of them would contribute $5 to that cause. But I added that it didn’t have to be the same $5 that would be used for the cap and gown. I suggested, “Just don’t use your car for a week and you’ll save $5 in gasoline. Or don’t get a haircut. That’ll save some money.”

No male students cut their hair in those days; it was a joke. Very few laughed because in those days students had very little sense of humor. I said, “Now let’s get to the heart of the matter. Your parents have paid tens of thousands of dollars to educate you at Boston University. They and your grandparents and aunts and uncles are going to be here to observe a ceremony that has its origins in the Middle Ages. They have a right to expect to see you in caps and gowns along with the faculty and the administration. You owe it to them to be properly attired.” I’m pleased to say the students heeded my words.

Is this hilarious to anyone else? It's just SO dry and straightforward. Like, "This is what happened. They were idiots and I was level-headed and that's that."


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