Howard Zinn: BU's John Silber says he had grounds for firing Zinn





Q: I'd guess that some of that reputation for conservatism also stems from your record here at the university, where you've upheld certain classical traditions. You have been very distrustful of the theorists, the Frankfurt School, things like that, which have a sharply left-wing tinge.

A: We've got plenty of left-wingers. We've had plenty of left-wing professors at Boston University. And contrary to the statement that has been repeated in the newspapers ad nauseam, I never fired a tenured professor. Not one.

Q: Well, you can't.

A: No, it's not because you can't. You can fire a professor for serious misconduct or incompetence. For example, when [BU history professor] Howard Zinn was passing the hat in his class to let people draw their grades, and he told them in advance that there were only A's and B's in the hat, that's grounds for firing somebody. [Zinn contests this version of events.] You could certainly fire a person for that and make it stick. I wasn't about to make a martyr out of Howard Zinn, and he taught here until he finally decided to resign. It's not that you can't fire people when they have been sufficiently deficient. Howard Zinn led a group of students to disrupt a meeting of the Latin American Development Studies Program at Boston University when they had a conference on “Quo Vadis, Latin America?” And they had a couple of presidents from South America and Central America, and they had what we would probably call the treasurer, Roberto Campos, from Brazil, and Colombian President Carlos Lleras Restrepo and other very distinguished people. Well, he tried to break that up. I could have fired him for that. No question about it. That's not permitted academic behavior. I could have fired him under the criteria of the AAUP rules. So, it's just not true.

I don't mind having people disagree with me, but I think one thing that some left-wing professors don't want is anybody to criticize them. I think that I offended many people when I decimated the postures and the lies of Noam Chomsky in an article I wrote called “Poisoning the Well in Academe.” That wasn't a conservative screed on my part. That was a liberal's devotion to the truth, and the exposure of a liar, a person who assaults the mind by putting in false evidence.



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