John R. Silber, who transformed a faltering Boston University into one of the nation’s leading private schools in a volcanic 25-year presidency that promoted innovation, crushed opposition and made him America’s highest-paid educator and one of its most divisive, died in September 2012 at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 86. From 1971 to 1996 ruled B.U. with a tigerish ferocity that delighted admirers and enraged critics. There were plenty of both. He took a leave in 1990 to be the Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts. While he lost narrowly to the Republican, William F. Weld, there was talk of a presidential race. But he returned to academic life, was the university chancellor from 1996 to 2003, and retired as president emeritus with a multimillion-dollar package that touched off one more controversy. A short, tough Texan born with a withered right arm into a family of strict Presbyterians who never told him of his father’s Jewish forebears or of an aunt gassed at Auschwitz, Dr. Silber had fought battles all his life. John Robert Silber was born on Aug. 15, 1926, in San Antonio. His father, Paul, was a German-immigrant architect whose work dried up in the Depression. His mother, the former Jewell Joslin, a teacher, supported the family. He graduated with high honors in philosophy from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1947, and married his college debating partner, Kathryn Underwood. They had two sons and six daughters. Mrs. Silber died in 2005. Their son David died of AIDS in 1994. Besides Ms. Ruth Silber-Belmonte, Dr. Silber is survived by his daughters Rachel Devlin, Martha Hathaway, Judith Ballan, Alexandra Silber and Caroline Lavender; another son, Charles Hiett; a brother, Paul; 26 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. After graduating from Trinity, Dr. Silber considered the ministry and attended Yale Divinity School for a year, then studied law at the University of Texas at Austin. But, resuming his undergraduate major, he settled on philosophy and earned a master’s degree from Yale in 1952. He taught philosophy there for several years while working on the doctorate he received in 1956. In 1957, he returned to Texas as an assistant professor of philosophy. On a Fulbright scholarship, he went to Germany in 1959 and taught a year at Bonn University. There, he learned of his father’s heritage and his aunt’s fate at Auschwitz. Back at Austin, he became a full professor and department chairman in 1962, then dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1967. In three years he replaced 22 department heads. But by 1970, his liberal politics and executive aspirations had brought him into conflict with the chairman of the Board of Regents, Frank C. Erwin Jr. Dr. Silber was dismissed as dean and began looking for a new job.