SMU’s homepage now has a detailed outline of SMU President Gerald Turner’s January 17 talk to faculty, in which he responded to concerns and questions raised at the faculty meeting the week before. This is the most thorough statement of why the Library-Museum-Institute is in SMU’s best interest. It’s the best speech I’ve heard Turner give and was highly responsive to the questions generated the week before. It still leaves me unsure as to why the Institute is in our best interests; and his assurances that Presidential libraries are run without influence of the former President and his circles simply doesn’t square with the experience of previous libraries or of a key executive order about libraries issued by Bush, as you can see if you go to the articles on the “key resources” and “other libraries” sections.
By one of the authors who originally started the campus-wide discussion of the library, et. al., with an article in the Daily Campus in November. Professor Susanne Johnson (no relation) now seems to withdraw her opposition to the library itself. She now urges a focus on the Institute.
Can we change the topic of conversation, please?
SMU Daily Campus
When a colleague and I co-authorized an op ed piece for the SMU Daily Campus Nov. 10, little did we realize the firestorm it would ignite. Because we both love SMU, and because we then deemed the proposed Bush Presidential Library, Museum and Policy Institute to be inconsistent with SMU’s mission and its grounding in the United Methodist heritage, we expressed our conscience as a matter of record-definitely not because we had any self-inflated notions we could stop the whole thing. But when the lid was removed, steam came boiling out from the pot.
At her address during our general faculty meeting Jan. 17, Faculty Senate President Rhonda Blair wondered out loud if our motives were not merely political in nature. Some others have raised that question.
Equally as troubling as having my motives impugned in public is the way the word ‘politics’ is being used. Sadly, recent generations have lost sight of the ancient Greek appreciation for politics as a fine art. At its finest, politics is not tantamount to defending, criticizing or aligning ourselves with one political party or another. It is not the same thing as running for office, or campaigning for candidates of choice. Though politics requires the judicious and collaborative use of power, the core of politics is not power struggles played out in public.
Politics involves the art of dialogue around mutual concern for the common good. Historian Phillip Wolin goes so far as to contend that our basic birthright as human beings is our nature as political beings. By this he means our calling and capacity to participate in caring for the common good, including endeavors to shape institutions that attend to the common good. This is profoundly important, for these institutions in turn shape us.
In his letter to the faculty, President Turner presented the library, museum, and institute as a pre-packaged or all-in-one deal. Thereafter, discussions about the library, museum, and institute have been muddled and conflated. Critique aimed at one component gets heard as critique of all. Likewise, praise of one particular component gets extended to the others. This has confused everybody. There may be valid grounds on which to accept one piece of the proposal, but not other pieces.
Research indicates that our campus could accrue the same kinds of important benefits from the museum-and library, of course-as we might gain from an institute: national and worldwide dignitaries; lecture series; visiting scholars; Fellows-in-residence; collaborative programs; joint appointments; educational programs for children and youth; and a host of other high-profile activities.
Until we disentangle consideration of the library and museum from consideration of the partisan policy institute, we will remain unable to bring anything into sharp focus. Let’s change the topic of conversation. Let’s talk “institute” not “library.”
Read the entire piece here.
This should only strengthen SMU’s bargaining position.
UD ends effort to win Bush library
Dallas Morning News
January 22, 2007
The University of Dallas, the little Catholic campus that had big hopes of hosting the Bush presidential library, dropped out of the race Monday as signs increasingly point to Southern Methodist University as the winner. UD leaders played up the positives.
The media coverage of the Bush Library-Museum-Institute and SMU continues. Yesterday a reporter from London’s Guardian was on campus, on the New York Times blog Stanley Fish posted a long screed against opponents of the library’s coming to SMU, and the University of Dallas announced its withdrawal from the competition, leaving only Baylor as a potential rival host university to SMU.
The external coverage seems to be lagging well behind the discussion on campus, which has come to focus on the Institute. Although some people aren’t excited about the library itself, there is virtually no opposition to it per se. In contrast, there are many questions and at least some outright opposition to the Institute. As near as I can tell, the relationship between SMU and the Institute that is being contemplated is unprecedented in SMU’s history, and perhaps in the history of American higher education. The Institute would be partisan and advocacy oriented (according to statements by SMU President Gerald Turner, interviews by the Bush people, and the Bush people’s request for hosting proposals). It would bear SMU’s name, be housed on our campus, and include joint appointments with SMU departments, yet its fellows would be named by the Institute’s director, who would report to the Bush Foundation, not to any office at SMU. This differs both from Stanford’s Hoover Institute, which reports to the university president, and Emory’s Carter Center, which is explicitly non-partisan.
Despite the statements of SMU officials, who have turned the university’s homepage into a propaganda machine for the Library, faculty and now alumni concerns are focused on the Institute and whether it is appropriate or wise for SMU to host such a prominent, partisan organization that would inevitably shape out public reputation yet remain outside of standard academic hiring procedures and administrative reporting channels. Most of the external observers haven’t yet recognized this — Stan Fish’s post totally ignores the question of the institute, the Dallas Morning News endorsement of the library doesn’t mention it, and the petition against the Methodist opposition is wittly entitled Protect SMU From The “Leftist Bush-Hate Kooks” Opposing The Bush Presidental Library Being @ SMU!
Contrary to the depictions of SMU officials — who have consistently downplayed the level of faculty engagement and concern, sometimes to the point of outright dishonesty — the faculty concern is widespread. Just yesterday I had conversations with professors and department chairs in the law school, engineering school, and business school in which they expressed the same concerns as some of my colleagues in the humanities.
So the questions of the faculty about the Institute, and the question of how they will act on them, remain unanswered. SMU’s president will meet with faculty again on Wednesday afternoon, and perhaps he will directly respond to the doubts and concerns about the Institute.