From the Inside Out

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.

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2 Responses to From the Inside Out

  1. Alexis McCrossen says:

    Response to NYT’s Op-Editorials by Jim Hollifield and Ben Hufbauer (Saturday Jan. 20) and Stanley Fish’s NYT Essay (Monday Jan. 22):

    While the two NYT op-ed pieces about Presidential Libraries each address the complex situation brewing in Dallas and at Southern Methodist University over the shaping of Bush’s legacy, the good name of a vital Protestant denomination, and the future of a university, Stanley Fish’s essay is rooted in an uninformed assessment of the particular situation at hand. As does Professor Hollifield, Professor Fish overlooks the costs of bringing the Bush Library to SMU, or any University campus: the Bush team’s insistence that the library will come with a partisan think-tank, “The Bush Institute,” reporting solely to the Bush Foundation. (Perhaps we can excuse Fish for failing to do his due diligence, but e cannot excuse Hollifield who knows full well exactly what the price of the Library will be.) SMU’s President R. Gerald Turner has explained that the host University for the Bush Institute will be expected to make joint-faculty appointments and sponsor joint-programs with the Institute. It is unprecedented for a University to host an independent partisan think-tank without any oversight of it at all. (The Hoover Institution, which it is important to add is not attached to a Presidential Library, reports to Stanford University).

    Though the differences between universities and think-tanks are abundant, the most relevant one is that universities hire scholars on the basis of their expertise and academic qualifications; think-tanks, like the Heritage Foundation, hire fellows on the basis of their ideology and political qualifications.

    So here I turn to the heart of the controversy. Bush’s core supporters, many of whom are our Trustees and biggest donors, are attempting to co-opt our University in the effort to vindicate, shore up, and perhaps even revitalize their political commitments. But we have an active faculty who are already involved in a tremendous range of research projects that are important and worthy, though they may not directly address the needs of the current Bush administration and supporters.

    Professor Hollifield’s arguments in favor of the Bush Library being sited at SMU are fairly benign, but Professor Fish’s are naive and somewhat overblown (after all Presidential papers are preserved by the National Records Archives Administration and thus the need for “Presidential Libraries” is somewhat questionable to begin with). The real problem however with each publicity effort is that they overlook the deal that apparently must be made to bring this eventuality to pass: transforming one of the top one hundred Universities in the United States into an adjunct of the Bush Presidency. The stakeholders in SMU , as well all stakeholders in the American system of higher education, ought to resist this deal between monied interests and partisan politicians.

    Alexis McCrossen, Associate Professor of History, SMU & Faculty Senator

  2. Editor says:

    “Presidental Library?” Someone was in such a frenzy he couldn’t even spell it!

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