The IWP community is mourning the passing away of Dr. John Silber, the longtime President of Boston University. Dr. Silber played an instrumental role in the founding of IWP.
When I originally conceived of the mission of the Institute and found that any attempt to implement it at Georgetown University, where I was teaching, would have ignited an academic turf war, I was prompted to set up an independent institution. However, I faced a major obstacle: higher education in America is organized in such a way that market entry is extremely difficult. One cannot even apply for accreditation until one has a degree program and a student body in place who are ready, not only to attend, but to graduate from an unaccredited institution. Meanwhile, U.S. government agencies, whose personnel IWP was hoping would become our students, do not send them to an unaccredited institution.
For these reasons, I had to find another academic institution that would be willing to to establish a partnership and offer credit for our courses while IWP grew to the point of being able to apply and gain independent accreditation.
In surveying the landscape of American universities, I discovered one which was being extremely entrepreneurial in the field of international relations. It was Boston University.
Over the course of three decades, Dr. Silber had raised the quality of the university so dramatically that one could easily argue that it was the most successful academic growth stock in America. He succeeded in inspiring and recruiting world class scholars, including those from other major universities around the country, to come and find a truly vibrant academic community at Boston University. This was particularly true in the field of international relations, for which Dr. Silber took the unique step of establishing a separate academic department.
A philosopher by profession, Dr. Silber was a staunch advocate of the classical liberal arts core curriculum. He was also one of the few university presidents in the modern era to be a true public intellectual whose views on major national issues resonated in halls of Washington. During the Cold War, he was a member of the Committee on the Present Danger, whose influential membership made a decisive difference in steering U.S. national security policy towards a stout resistance to Soviet expansionism.
After an introduction by Amb. Faith Whittlesey, who eventually became our longtime Board Chairman, Dr. Silber received my proposal for an partnership with Boston University with an open mind. He was interested not only in the concept of our mission, but also in our bringing prominent scholar practitioners in the nation’s capital into the orbit of Boston University. He invited me to negotiate an arrangement with his Executive Vice President and Provost, Jon Westling. The university agreed to provide academic credit for our courses, having reviewed their quality, as well as the suitability of our nominations for the faculty.
As we gradually built the Institute over nine years, we finally arrived at the point where we could apply for independent accreditation, which involved a five-year process. Boston University stuck with us through the entire journey, allowing us to achieve full independent accreditation.
None of this would have happened without Dr. Silber’s extraordinary support, vision, and magnanimity. The fact that he would help launch an institution that ended up becoming independent of his own university was a sign that he was interested in rendering a service to the nation, for which his own university would not necessarily get any special credit.
We at the Institute honor such nobility of spirit, and are grateful for all Dr. Silber did to help us realize our vision.
Founder and President