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.