From the press release announcing Melissa Gilliam as the new president of Boston University: "She credits Robert Zimmer, the president of the University of Chicago from 2006 to 2021, for being the mentor who suggested she consider pivoting from research and medicine into higher education leadership. Zimmer, who died in May, built a tight circle of future higher ed leaders, mentoring, promoting, and helping to launch the careers of the current presidents of Dartmouth, Caltech, Vanderbilt, Clark, and Colby College. And now Boston University."
That is quite a record. Zimmer—provost of Brown University from 2002 to 2006 and a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in New York City and the Brandeis University class of 1968—was known for defending free speech on campus.
American higher education, even "elite" American higher education, is a vast sector, but it operates to an important degree on these informal referral networks of common, highly respected mentors. That can be a strength or a weakness or sometimes a bit of both. In the case of Zimmer, it's probably largely a strength.
As for Boston University, which John Silber built to prominence and which Ibram Kendi has now made his academic home, as a Boston resident I am hoping that Gilliam leads it to new strengths.