Can we change the topic of conversation, please?

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?
Susanne Johnson
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.


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